Friday 22 December 2017

Cabo de Gata & Rambla Morales with Arboleas Birding Group

Friday 22 December

So, whilst I was waiting patiently, nerves all on edge, to lie back on the operating chair and have the cataract removed frm my left eye, dreaming dreams about the wonderful birds I will be able to see in the New Year, Dave and his merry bank of followers were out and about in Cabo de Gata actually looking at our feathered fiends.  And judging by Dave's report below if looks very much as if they did, indeed, have a good day's birding.  But just think of the birds I was dreaming about!  Ah well, soon be my turn again.  To Dave and all his Arboleas Birding Group may I wish a very peaceful Christmas and a most happy and healthy New Year with lots of great birding to come.

Cabo de Gata & Rambla Morales:Wednesday 20th December

"The early bird catches the worm", is the saying. So, as Gilly was recovering from a bad back, I headed early to Cabo de Gata to "do" the rear of the reserve before meeting up with the others from the group.  I got to the far end of the beach, seeing a flying Raven on the way, just after the breaking dawn.  The sun had not yet shown itself over the mountains and there was a definite chill in the air! The first bird I saw was a male Stonechat, closely followed by a Crested Lark, but the salinas at this end were devoid of birdlife. 

Male Stonechat Saxicola torquatus (PHOTO: David Elliott-Binns)
As I approached the defunct hide, I started to see some birds. Some Shelduck  and Greater Flamingo in the water. Ringed Plover, Dunlin, Little Stint, Avocet and Black Winged Stilt on the edges.  There was a Kestrel on the ruined building and I could hear a Red-legged Partridge.  Beyond the hide I added a Black-necked Grebe plus Meadow Pipit, Greenfinch and White Wagtail.  I then found "the worm"!  Four Common Crane nervously standing there.  By this time the sun had appeared over the mountain ridge so was able to get some photos.  Carrying on, I added an Iberian Grey Shrike high up on the power lines and an obliging Corn Bunting on a bush.  Nearing the end farm buildings I saw a flock of Goldfinch plus House Sparrow and Collared Dove.  I got to the Pujaire cafe with 15 minutes to spare, so was enjoying my coffee and tostada as the others started to arrive.  I was joined by Kevin and Troy, their friends, Pete and Sue, Les, scribe again Val and Carolyn, having finished her season on the Isle of Easedale, near Mull, Scotland doing Sea Safaris, seeing lots of White-tailed and Golden Eagles as well as seals and porpoises, not that we're jealous of course!

Common Crane Grus grus (PHOTO: David Elliott-Binns)
Suitably refreshed we headed our way to the first hide.  The usual suspects were in the water.  Greater Flamingo, Avocet, Mallard as well as a small group of Black-tailed Godwit.  There were a few Redshank and Grey Plover spotted.  An Eurasian Curlew was on the causeway.  A warbler was flitting around the shrubs in front of us.  Les managed to ID it as a Dartford.  Carolyn then found a Marsh Harrier and I, in John's absence, found a group of distant Spoonbill.  Les counted 13 in all. There were 3 Iberian Grey shrike perched behind us and I found a female Blue Rock Thrush on the corner of the pumping station(?).  Also seen were Chiffchaff, White Wagtail, Collared Dove, Spotless Starling, Greenfinch, Crag Martin, House Sparrow and Sardinian Warbler.
Moving to the beach by the second hide we had Cormorant and Yellow-legged Gull.  I spotted an adult Gannet out to sea.  I missed the flying group of Stone Curlew as I'd locked on to the Marsh Harrier that presumably spooked them!  We also had Black-headed Gull, Raven, Kestrel and numerous distant Black-necked Grebes.  We had better views of the always asleep Spoonbill, but no sign of the Common Cranes which would have been opposite this location.  As we were about to walk back to the vehicles a flight of 21 Golden Plover passed by.

Sleeping Spoonbills Platalea leucorodia (PHOTO: David Elliott-Binns)
At the public hide we added Black-winged Stilt, Dunlin, Sanderling, Kentish and Little Ringed Plover.  There was a long line of Lesser -black Backed Gulls as well as a few Sandwich Terns and a pair of slightly pink Slender-billed Gulls.
It being too early for lunch we convoyed our way along the beachside track to the Rambla Morales. There were a few Cormorants resting at one end, but birds were few and far between.  I spotted a male Pintail and Les, a female White Headed Duck.  Troy and Carolyn found a small flock of Greenfinch, but the only other birds were Moorhen, Coot and Mallard.   We then retired to the Cabo village beach cafe where we had a snack lunch.
Male Pintail Anas acuta (PHOTO: David Elliott-Binns)
Lovely day in great company. 50 species for the day. I'm sure everyone will join Gilly and I in wishing you a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year with great birding in 2018.
Best wishes and good health, Dave

Interstingly, when viting Cabo de Gata at the beginning of the month we, too, saw Common Crane and pronbably four as far as I rmember.  Departing the water and over-flying the road above the first hide on the bend as you approach the village.

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Tuesday 19 December 2017

Axarquia Bird Group visit to Alhama de Granada and El Robledal

Tuesday 19 December

Lovely dry, sunny day but a little on the chilly side as the Axarquia Bird Group met at the small laguneta above Alhama de Granada.  Eight of us present travelling from our part of the region with Steve and Elena Powell from Frigiliana, John and Jenny wainwright from Salar, visit Australians Bob and Noreen Ashford presently renting in Los Romanes, Dutch birding visitor Lisette Heikoop staying in nearby Caleta and myself from Mezquitilla.  Lots of birds to see at the lake and neighbouring track down to the Alhambra gorge then the visit to the woods of El Robledal put the proverbial icing on the cake with not only, at last, my first Firecrests of the year but Crested, Coal and Long-tailed Tits in the same tree and a Short-toed Treecreeper exploring the tree immediately behind.  No wonder we recorded a magnificent 45 species in our extended morning and then Goldfinches, Cattle Egret and a Kestrel on our way home.

Arriving at the laguneta there were a couple of Cormorant on the dam accompanied by a similar number of Coot.  On the water in front about a dozen Mallard and ten, mainly male, Common Pochard.  A couple of Little Grebe were busy diving for food and in the reeds immediately below the hide both Robin and Cetti's Warbler were recorded whilst in the trees above we had Chaffinch and Coal Tit.  A walk through the nearby spinney revealed both Blackbird and Robin.

Grey Wagtail Lavander cascadena Motacilla cinerea apaying a short visit

The walk down the gorge to about 200metres beyond the footbridge over the stream was most productive.  We had hardly started when looking down at the brambles below on a small area of cleared vegetation we had a Water Rail feeding out in the open for at least five minutes and, indeed, remained in the area along with at least one, if not two, other individuals for the whole time we were present.  Not only the Water Rail but first a Grey Wagtail then a White Wagtail.  The Cetti's Watbler presented itself as did both Robin and Wren.

Our glorious Water Rail Rascon Europeo Railus aquaticus
Walking on down the track lots of Chaffinch and Blackcap to be seen and then a good view of a rapidly departing Great Spotted Woodpecker.  At this point we also added Spotless Starling, Mistle Thrush and Chiffchaff followed by both male and female Blue Rock Thrush on top of the right-hand cliff before finding our first of a few Black Redstarts on the opposite side of the gorge.

Distant Blue Rock Thrush Roquero Solitario Monticola solitariua

Then it was round to the far side of the laguneta, noticing a Moorhen on the way, to take the forest rack over to El Robledal and recording our first Jay of the morning before arriving along with a couple of Crested Larks.  Once near the area our first stop produced House Sparrows and a small party of Linnets with a tree full of Corn Buntings to the left. In the distance a solitary Iberian Grey Shrike posed in a tree top and a small flock of Crossbill made their departure from the pine trees.  John and Jenny managed to find the sole Stonechat of the morning and t'other Bob saw the only Hawfinch as it crossed the track in front of him but most of us recorded the rather handsome male Sardinian Warbler.

One of many Jays Arrendajo Garrulus glanarius seen this morning
Our next stop produced a handful of feeding Jays, on the ground, along with many Chaffinch and a couple or more Greenfinch.  Lisette and Bob managed to find a Green Woodpecker.  In the trees above a huge range of small birds as described in the opening paragrapah and, of course, a few Nuthatch. We also managed to add a couple of Blue and Great Tit and in the skies above a small number of feeding Crag Martins and a largish flock of Woodpigeon.  But,as already stated, the best part was finding all those small LBJs before we set off  back down the track to the main road for a very welcome coffee and more at the local venta.

Record shot of  very high Long-tailed Tit Mito Aegithalos caudatus

Birds seen:
Mallard, Pochard, Little Grebe, Cormorant, Cattle Egret, Kestrel, Water Rail, Moorhen, Coot, Rock Dove, Woodpigeon, Collared Dove, Great Spotted Woodpecker, Green Woodpecker, Crested Lark, Crag Martin, Grey Wagtail, White Wagtail, Wren, Robin, Black Redstart, Stonechat, Blue Rock Thrush, Blackbird, Mistle Thrush, Cetti's Warbler, Dartford Warbler, Sardinian Warbler, Blackcap, Chiffchaff, Firecrest, Long-tailed Tit, Crested Tit, Coal Tit, Blue Tit, Great Tit, Nuthatch, Short-toed Treecreper, Iberian Grey Shrike, Jay, Spotless Starling, House Sparrow, Chaffinch, Greenfinch, Goldfinch, Linnet, Crossbill, Hawfinch, Corn Bunting.
Our final look at both Jay (above) and Water Rail (below)

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Saturday 16 December 2017

Mid-December and 3 new Species for the Year

Saturday 16 December

Over to Loja mid-morning to visit our friends Mick and Jayne Richardson and check up all is OK, etc,  Arriving at Mick's home we had a good-sized charm of Goldfinches and a few Crested Larks.  No sooner had we entered the house than Mick was showing us not so much the House Sparrows but the small flock of Siskins feeding in the seed tray (first new species for year).

Leaving Jenny and Jayne at the house Mick took me down to the nearby fields where he had seen Brambling in the past week.  Both Goldfinches and Chaffinches along with a passing Greenfinch as we headed for the rived crossing but not before stopping to "stare" at the Little Owl in its favourite roosting tree about five metres away from the car.  Unfortunately, the sun, it being a bright and clear day with a warming temperature approaching 12C, was almost in our eyes so we left the little chap to sleep on knowing that we would have a second chance on the way back.

Little Owl Mochuelo Comun Athena noctua
Reaching the ford across the Cacin river we stopped, wondered, debated and then thought, "Stuff this!" and ploughed on through to the far side.  Well, at least it cleaned all wheels and the underbody.  No sooner up the bank and the first Green Sandpiper of the day made a rapid departure and we stopped to check out the field opposite the rive for the recently-seen Brambling.  No luck but we did have a Hoopoe cross the road and then found a Snipe hiding behind a small bush at the water's edge whilst a Moorhen paddled across.

Snipe Agachadiza Comun Gallinago gallinago
 On to the bend we parked the car and walked down the track that followed the river.  Stopping immediately we had a number of Blackcap and a Black Redstart in the large, bare tree and then our first sight of a Brambling (second new species for the year) along with  a good number of Chaffinches and, looking up, we saw a "cloud" of Woodpigeons above the far tress so wondered what had put them up?  Meanwhile, lots of White Wagtails about which continued to be seen during the total of, probably, just under an hour that we spent away from the house and a number of feeding Chifchaff close to the water.

Black Redstart Colirrojo Tizon Phoenicurus ochruros
We had already recorded Blackbird and Collared Dove as we drove off in search of my third new species for the year which Mick had found, apparently wintering, less than a week ago.  Crossing the railway bridge we had a quartet of (Common) Magpie and a single Azure-winged Magpies.  Then a short walk on a very muddy piece of waste ground (how am I going to explain the resulting mess to Jenny?) brought Crested Lark, Corn Bunting and a number of Stonechat.  Yes, Mick had spotted our first Wryneck (new species number three) and soon we were creeping up trying to get a better view.  Turned out there were two individuals which then dispersed but with one landing in a distant, but clear, tree to give  a chance for an even better view.  Eventually the bird returned to it previous feeding patch so providing another sighting.  I went to check it out whilst Mick carried on up the field an found a third individual along with a Bluethroat.  Meeting up, we worked our way back to the road and the car, noticing the handful of Crag Martins in the sky above, and eventually the Bluethroat gave us a better sighting.

Record shot of the Wryneck Torcecuelllo Euroasiatico Jynx torquilla
Returning alongside the river on the other side we got a much closer and well-exposed look at the Snipe.  Then it was on to find the Little Bustards.  But first a stop to photograph the Little Owl as already described and a Mistle Thrush flew across the field on the opposite side.  At the same time we picked up a very small flock of Lapwing in the field.  In the background beyond the green field we had a number of Sky Larks and there was certainly no shortage, as there had been all morning, of Spotless Starlings.  A Meadow Pipit was heard then seen and, eventually, we found a well-hidden Little Bustard.  But the more we looked, no scopes available today, the more we saw and certainly had very clear views of at least five individuals.  Meanwhile, behind us, Mick could hear a Dartford Warbler calling and eventually the bird moved so exposing itself to both of us.

Record shot of a few of the Little Bustards Sison Comun Tetrax tetrax

Arriving back at Mick's home the Siskins had arrived in good numbers on both feeders so an opportunity to take photographs and note the different plumages between male and female.  A Great Tit arrived to join in the fun and having recorded 34 species in the hour we took our leave to return home via the back road to Loja, so missing out of the Stone Curlews which, in any case, had probably moved away as the farmers were busy working in their particular, preferred, field.  On the other hand, within 200 metres of Mick's house we had a Song Thrush at the side of the road which move into the olive grove as we approached so taking our final tally of the morning to a wonderful 35 species.

Male Siskin (above) Lugano Carduelis spinus and female below

You wait for your first then a whole flock come along
"Oy!, This is my food tray. Clear off!"

Birds seen:
Moorhen, Little Bustard, Lapwing, Snipe, Green Sandpiper, Woodpigeon, Collared Dove, Little Owl, Hoopoe, Wryneck, Crested Lark, Sky Lark, Crag Martin, Meadow Pipit, White Wagtail, Bluethroat, Black Redstart, Stonechat, Blackbird, Song Thrush, Mistle Thrush, Dartford Warbler, Blackcap, Chiffchaff, Great Tit, Azure-winged Magpie, Magpie, Spotless Starling, House Sparrow, Chaffinch, Brambling, Greenfinch, Goldfinch, Siskin, Corn Bunting.

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Wednesday 13 December 2017

Rio Almanzora & Vera Playa with the Arboleas Birding Group

 Wednesday 13 December

Birding for me will have to wait until the wee-end by friends Derek and Barbara Etherton paid a visit to their local patch at Zapata behind the airport in Malaga and managed to record about 40 species in a couple of hours including many Bluethroat.  Meanwhile, Dave and his Arboleas Birding Group have been out exploring the Rio Almanzora and Vera Player in very warming weather and Dave's report follows.
Rio Almanzora and Vera Playa   -   Wednesday 13th December

I left Gilly poorly in bed with a heavy cold. It was hovering just over zero degrees as I made my way towards the rambla west of the Rio Almanzora estuary.  I joined it just past the Desert Springs golf complex.  There was one bit of water on which I found Mallards, Moorhen & a Little Grebe.  Nearer the ford I came upon Les.  He'd managed to see Teal, Redshank, Dunlin, Little Stint, Little Ringed Plover, Black Winged Stilt, Grey Wagtail, Stonechat & Blackbird.  Whilst waiting in the parking area above the ford a Little Egret flew past as well as a flock of Northern Starling and a female Black Redstart came and checked us out.  Major "deforestation" work was being done between the ford and the road bridge presumably in case of heavy rains.  We were eventually joined by 12 other members including Lily, a relatively new birder, and returning visitors, Roger and Diane.  John and Alan had spotted a Common Snipe before arriving.  We walked up the rambla towards the sewage works seeing the first of numerous Chiffchaff.  A Cetti's Warbler was heard.  There was a Common Sandpiper in the first pool.  On the larger lake we saw a small number of Common Pochard.  A pair of Green Sandpipers were by the dry weir and a pair of Hoopoe were spotted by Kevin.  Jacky found a Robin.  Once we got back to the cars a number of the group took their vehicles over the other side of the rambla to look down over the water from that side, whilst the others decided a cuppa was in order.  I didn't chose wisely although the hot coffee was very enjoyable!  John and Alan spotted a Jack Snipe and a Kingfisher was also seen.
Female Blue Rock Thrush Monticola solitarius (PHOTO: David Elliott-Binns)
After everyone had been suitably refreshed, we made our way to the beach.  On the harbour rocks were Cormorant, Turnstone, Sanderling and a Little Egret.  Above us were the occasional Crag Martin.  We moved over to the estuary where we found lots of the reeds had been removed.  They will regenerate rapidly so we weren't too upset.  Lots of Crag Martins here, plus Coot, Chiffchaff and another Robin.  John found a female Blue Rock Thrush perched in a tree.  Further towards the beach there were about 50 Cormorant together with a huge flock of gulls... mostly Black Headed, but some Mediterranean, Audouin's and Yellow Legged.  A Sandwich Tern was seen as well as a few Grey Heron.  Dave Green spotted an Iberian Grey Shrike on the far side. 

Sandwich Terns Sterna sandvicensis (PHOTO: David Elliott-Binns)

I then spotted a bird perched in a leafless tree near it.  A Wryneck.  A lifer for some of the group.  We moved on to the beach.  We could see the water level in the pool was higher than sea level.  On the muddy fringes we had Ringed and Kentish Plover, Little Stint, Stonechat and White Wagtail.  Heading back towards the vehicles along the beach, a Grey Plover flew onto the rocky peninsula, joining the Sanderling, Kentish Plovers and the resident Whimbrel.  Also there were a small group of resting Sandwich Terns.
Whimbrel Numenius phaeopus (PHOTO: David Elliott-Binns)
Some of the group left us, whilst the rest made for the dual carriageway opposite the Consum supermarket, behind  Vera Playa. Jacky spotted a Shelduck.  There were more Teal, some Shoveler, a single immature Greater Flamingo and a couple of White Headed Duck.  Checking the roof line of the flats behind us, I found a Black Wheatear.
More farewells as John, Alan and myself made our way to the bridge over the Rio Aguas, Mojacar Playa where we met up with Trevor and Ann.  Alan managed to spot the reported Ferruginous Duck sleeping in a reed island.  Four had been seen earlier and had been there for nearly a week, I believe.  I had to head back to Villaricos so I added a Jackdaw en route.  The temperature, by the way, had increased to a tropical 22c !!
Ferruginus Duck Aythya nyroca (PHOTO: David Elliott-Binns)
Great days birding in good company. 49 species in all.  Thanks to Val for being the scribe!  Apologies if I got the "spotters" wrong.  It's difficult with a large group!
So many in the group theat they could well be "Twitchers"
Bit of a plug for friend, group member and author....Kevin Borman has released the sequel to his acclaimed book, "Flamingos in the Desert".   Out now...." Where Hoopoes fly".  A cracking Christmas present?
Regards, Dave
Cover of Kevin's new book

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Thursday 7 December 2017

Almeria Day 2: Cabo de Gata

Wednesday 6 December

What a gorgeous start to to the day with clear blue skies, full sunshine and quite warm, no need for extra layers!  And before we even reached the first hide at the large car park we stopped to witness a half-dozen Curlew take of and circle their present site before finding new cover.  And then, as we entered the hide looking east. a quartet of Cranes flew over westwards calling as they travelled.  there were at least hundred or more Avocets resting almost below us and scores of Flamingo ahead of us in the almost mist-like distance.  Forget the House Sparrows as we watched a female Marsh Harrier drift over towards us on the right and then a pair of courting Kestrels on top of a post.  Iberian Grey Shrike?  Certainly and a Grey Plover at the water's edge.  What a way to start the morning.

Continuing to study the water and vegetation in front of us we soon added Stonechat, Chiffchaff and Sardinian Warbler along with Black-winged Stilt, Ringed Plover and a Raven passed overhead.  Moving on to the first hide on the southern shore we son added both Crested Lark and more Chiffchaff and once ensconced were looking at numerous Cormorant and a number of Lesser Black-backed Gulls.  Lovely to also see more Slender-billed GullsCrag Martins were feeding overhead then very close and clear views of a Dartford Warbler to keep us smiling. Not just the brief view of a Hoopoe but at least eight Curlews landed in the field to the west giving good flight and settled views.

Slender-billed Gull Gaviota Picofina Larus genei
On to the Public Hide where we noticed more Avocets but very view waders.  A handful of Black-tailed Godwits and a few Sanderling and Kentish Plover semed to be the main species.  We did pick up a couple of Little Stint and then a similar number of Redshank.  On the far side a small number of Shelduck and  not only Lesser Black-backed and Yellow-legged but a few Audouin's Gulls and a couple of Sandwich Terns.  Finally we added both Common Sandpiper and Dunlin whilst, behind us over the sea, a Gannet worked the coast.

Redshank Archibebe Comun Tringa totanus
Moving on down to the lighthouse area we were able to find very many Black Wheatear along with Black Redstart and Crested Lark.  Needless to say we also added White Wagtails.  Moving higher, having seen a small flock of Greenfinch, we also added Thekla Lark.

Wigeon Silbon  Europeo Anas penelope
Then it was back to the village and outside to visit the relatively nearby rambla.  Given the lower water levels seen at the salinas we were quite amazed to see how full was the ramble lake.  Three juvenile Flamingo and at least a dozen Black-necked Grebes were the first sightings and then we also added Shoveler, Mallard and Commom Pochard.  A little searching produced a pair of White-headed Duck and at least half-a-dozen Wigeon.  In addition there must have been at least fifty plus Cormorants resting on in the water.  Naturally both Coot and Moorhen were recorded and to our right a few Meadw Pipits worked the undergrowth.  But, perhaps, the prime sighting was the Peregrine Falcon that glided across the water and on above us towards the village.

Cormorant Cormoran Grande Phalacrocorax carbo flying in to join fifty friends

Continuing on along the narrow and, at times, challenging sandy track we found flocks of Serin and Goldfinch  along with a number of Collared Dove and a Greenshank as we took our farewell to Cabo de Gata at the original hide.  55 species recorded on the day (and not a single Blackbird during the two days) but, most of all, two very enjoyable days in good company and good weather.  Thank you "Other" Bob.

Wigeon Silbon  Europeo Anas penelope and Black-necked Grebes Zampullin Cuelinegro Podiceps nigricolli
Birds seen:
Shelduck, Wigeon, Mallard, Shoveler, Pochard, White-headed Duck, Black-necked Grebe, Gannet, Cormorant, Flamingo, Marsh Harrier, Kestrel, Peregrine Falcon, Moorhen, Coot, Crane, Black-winged Stilt, Avocet, Ringed Plover, Kentish Plover, Grey Plover, Sanderling, Little Stint, Dunlin, Back-tailed Godwit, Curlew, Redshank, Greenshank, Common Sandpiper, Black-headed Gull, Slender-billed Gull, Audouin's Gull, Lesser Black-backed Gull, Yellow-legged Gull, Sandwich Tern, Collared Dove, Hoopoe, Crested Lark, Thekla Lark, Crag Martin, Meadow Pipit, White Wagtail, Black Redstart, Stonechat, Black Wheatear, Dartford Warbler, Sardinian Warbler, Chiffchaff, Iberian Grey Shrike, Raven, Spotless Starling, House Sparrow, Serin, Greenfinch, Goldfinch

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Sierra de Maria with the Arboleas Birding Group

Thursday 7 December

It seems to be all action at the moment.  Having just completed my blogs re last week's visits to both Frampton Marsh, Boston and Attenborough Reserve, Nottingham I am now underway with catching up on my two days in Almeria.  Day 1 based on Las Norias and Roquetas de Mar already published, photographs downloaded so that I can add along with Day 2 (yesterday) at Cabo de Gata. Meanwhile, David and Gilly Elliott-Binns are back from their UK visit and, also, yesterday were off to the Sierra de Maria where, like me, they had the rare privilege of recording a Merlin in "supersonic" flight.  As Dave says in his report below, they may have been down on numbers but certainly had some quality birds.

Sierra de Maria   -   Wednesday 6th December

I take full responsibility for today! It was my decision for the group to return here, two weeks after their last visit whilst I was on my way back from the UK.  Gilly, who had the day off work, and I picked up Richard and headed for Maria.  My truck doesn't give the outside temperatures, but John's car displayed -2c passing Velez Rubio.  It was about 0c at Maria.
We met up with him, Alan, Val, Les and Adrian at the Repsol garage cafe for a warming cuppa before making our way to the chapel area.  We'd already logged some of the usual suspects, House Sparrow, Collared Dove, Spotless Starling, Magpie and White Wagtail and added a Goldfinch en route.  There was very little round the chapel.  Les spotted a Robin and I was first to see some Great Tits.  Nothing at the water trough which I assume was iced up, so we began the walk up to the Information Centre. Incredibly Gilly spotted a bird in a distant tree.  A Hawfinch. 

Well-hidden Hawfinch Coccothraustes coccothraustes (PHOTO: David Elliott-Binns)
Presumably one of the hard to see resident ones, even though the has been lots of reported sightings recently in the UK.  Amazingly I got a photo from one of my friendly guides in Morocco of one ​resting in the Northern Sahara!  We also saw Blackbird and Mistle Thrush.  In the Botanical Gardens we only added some Crossbill. We all quickly returned to the Information Centre to have a warm by their blazing log fire!   Maybe my decision was not a good one!
Hawfinch Coccothraustes coccothraustes seen in the Sahara (PHOTO: David Elliott-Binns)
I led the convoy of cars towards the disused farm buildings.  As we approached some half dozen Jays followed a Green Woodpecker from the small deposito towards the pine trees.  Richard spotted the first Rock Sparrow.  Some Mistle Thrush and Crossbill were perched in the tree next to the water.  Les and the others went round the back of the buildings where the sun was on the short grassed meadow and found Crested and Lesser Short-toed Larks, Black Redstarts and many Chaffinch. A Raven and Carrion Crows were also seen. 
Moving on to the farm water trough area we saw more Crested Lark and Rock Sparrows, when Gilly spotted a Iberian Grey Shrike low down below an almond tree.  It eventually posed nicely on the fence surrounding the deposito.
Iberian Grey Shrike Lanius meridionalis (PHOTO: David Elliott-Binns)
Heading onto the plain we passed some corvids feeding to our right.  One Raven and some Carrion Crows.  Again I was leading the convoy when I saw a fast low flying bird  parallel to my left.  It landed.  It was a male Merlin.  It rapidly took off as a small lorry drove from the opposite direction and flew between us and the lorry, flying a wide circle and disappearing.  Kevin driving behind us saw it but the others, further behind missed it despite a search.  Kevin did manage to spot the crown of a skulking Little Owl amongst some rocks!  It was joined by a Black Redstart. Down at the hamlet we saw more Crested Larks and Alan identified some Linnet.
On the way back along the plain, two Little Owls were now on top of the rocks, warming themselves in the sun.  We came across a huge flock of corvids.  I stopped to check them when all of a sudden numerous Black Bellied Sandgrouse took off.  I followed a group of 14 but Alan said there were many more.  I think this is the third time in about 14 years I've seen them here.  The corvids included Raven, Carrion Crow and Red Billed Chough.
Once we'd got to the La Piza forest cafe it was warm enough in the sun to sit out for our snack lunch. We were entertained by a small flock of Long-tailed Tit.  Les also spotted a Blue Tit.  Leaving there we saw a stream of Griffon Vultures flying towards Maria town and further on at least 8 birds soaring near Velez Blanco.
A few of the group trying to restore their circulation (PHOTO: David Elliott-Binns)
Although we only ended up with 31 species, I think we got quality not quantity!
A great day out despite the cold weather!  A good decision, David!
I've also attached a photo of a very obliging Hoopoe which visited the threshing circle in front of our house the other day! Regards, Dave
Hoopoe Upua epops ouside our house (PHOTO: David Elliott-Binns)

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

Tuesday 5 December 2017

Almeria Day 1: Roquetas de Mar

Tuesday 5 December

Beautiful, clear and sunny day as I set off towards Almeria Province with visiting Australian birder, Bob Ashford.  By 10.45 we had reached Las Norias amid all the plastic greenhouses and its extensive reservoir.  Passing many Cattle Egret and a number of House Sparrows and Spotless Starlings we were soon at the the first causeway where we found surprisingly few water birds.  Hundreds of Crag Martins fading low over the water and a score or more Cormorant to our left.  Closer observation with the scope revealed a number of Great Crested Grebe and a handful of Shoveler hiding at the end of a stretch of reeds away to our right.  Again, closer inspection also revealed a trio of Red-crested Pochard.

Black-necked Grebe Zampullin Cuellinegro Podiceps nigricollis

A number of White Wagtails were foraging along the road and the first Linnet of the day passed over.    Having found a small group of six Black-necked Grebe we then had a single Little Grebe right in front of us and, when standing at the water's edge, a juvenile Night Heron took off from its cover to our left.  There were a few Black-headed Gulls and a single Little Egret was found right at the far end of the water,  Just a few Coot and a Moorhen waddled out to add to our observations.  Close by a Grey Wagtail landed briefly on the rocks to our left and made a rapid departure whilst a couple of Yellow-legged Gulls flew over.

Just two of the hundreds of Crag Martins Avion Roquero Phyonoprogne rupestris

On next to the plastic recovery plant and parked at the bridge to discover how low the water really was; no wonder there was a shortage of ducks in this area.  The small pool at the end produced a few Shoveler and a Heron the our only Purple Swamphen of the day.  Both Zitting Cisticola and Serin were seen as we walked down to the grassy field on the left a the end of the fence.  here we found both Meadow Pipit, Serin and Chiffchaff before finding a gap in the fence so that we could get down to the disgusting beach with all its accumulated rubbish.  Bob saw the flash of a Green Sandpiper as it darted away and with the help of scope and binoculars we soon relocated the bird further along the rocks.  At this point we were suddenly surprised as we watched a Short-eared Owl take off from the bushes to our right and glide away and over the small bank in front.  Wonderful! A Common Sandpiper came to join us and then we made our way back tote car and drove to the crossroads further lawn to take a right-turn and check out the small pool from the far end.  Apart from the small number of Shoveler already seen we were able to add a flock of about a dozen Mallard.

Greenshank Archibebe Claro Tringa nebularia
Time to move on and we made our way across towards Roquetas de Mar via San Augustin.  Near here we took the small track towards the lighthouse.  From the causeway we saw our first Flamingos and then a Greenshank feeding at the water's edge.  A little further along a Little Egret took off from the path and then the sight of another Meadow Pipit.  At the far end a single Slender-billed Gull was on the water to our left.

Slender-billed Gull gaviota Picofina Larus genei
Parking at the far end of the water we were able to find the flock of Shoveler and closer inspection also revealed a handful of Teal and at least a quartet of White-headed Ducks long with a number of Common Pochard.  Not many gulls present but we did record both Black-headed and Yellow-legged Gull.  A couple of Black-winged Stilts were working the small island and above us a female Kestrel was hovering.  Then, as promised, the sight of our first Marsh Harrier as an adult female quartered the reeds on the far side in front of us.

Black-winged Stilt Ciguenuela Comun Himantopus himantopus
Working our way back to the main road the Greenshank was still to be found along with a Redshank and pair of Black-winged Stilts.  At the bend to the causeway we finally found our first Stonechat and they were to become very regular sightings over the next hour or so.  But watching this first individual also revealed the Water Pipit feeding in the water close by.  Having had a long look at a female Reed Bunting a Sky Lark ascended in front of us and another Zitting Cisticola flew across the track to a new set of reeds.  As we approached the road we had a Robin on the track to our left.

Just to prove that Greenshank and Black-winged Stilt are hapy to feed in close proximity
Next it was to the old Salinas but first a stop a the fresh water lake before we joined the sandy track.  Here we found hundreds of Coot and probably as many duck, all close to the road side of the water which appeared to give more shelter.  Mainly Common but we did find a pair of Red-crested Pochard.  In with the flock were a handful of Gadwall and a small number of Wigeon a little further away.  It was whilst looking at the latter that I found the pair of resting Pintail to add to the number of duck species seen.  In addition to the mainly Black-headed and a few Yellow-legged Gulls we also found a very small flock of Lesser Black-backed Gulls on the water.

A few of the hundreds of Common Pochard Porron Europeo Aythya ferina
And so to the salinas themselves where, again, the water level was down and many of the shallower pools had completely dried.  Small waders seen were mainly Ringed and Kentish Plover along with  Dunlin and a couple of Turnstone.  On the opposite of the track the main pools provided many Flamingoes and then a large flock of Shelduck, probably well in excess of an hundred.  More Mallards, hundreds of Shoveler and then a small number of Sanderling feeding at the edge immediately in front of us.

Observations completed we made our way via the motorway towards Cabo de Gata with the sight of a passing Hoopoe as we approached the exit.  Taking the concrete track at about KM2 on the Cabo road  we made our way to the end so that we might follow the track to our left in search of the wintering Dotterel after crossing the dry arroyo.  A number of Crested Larks were seen and our first productive stop produced an Iberian Grey Shrike on a fence post.  Similarly, a female Kestrel occupied an isolated post away to our right and, in between the two, a small number of Rock Doves were feeding on the ground.

Female Common Kestrel Cernicalo Vulgar Falco tinnunculus

A good-sized flock of Linnets passed over along with Serin and the sighting of more Meadow Pipits whilst, out at sea, Bob noticed the first Gannet of the day.  Eventually turning to return in the same direction Bob caught sight of a large distant bird.  A little further on we found the bird resting in a tree top and it proved to be a lovely male Marsh Harrier.  The bird took off and flew across the track n front of us and disappeared but not before disturbing the Merlin that flashed past us low to the left travelling about a metre above the ground.  No wonder Rolls-Royce named their famous engine after this bird and it was used to power both Hawker Hurricanes and Spitfires during the World War II.  Our final sightings includedMagpie, Greenfinch and Thekla Lark but no Dotterel before we continued on to Cabo de Gata itself.

Arriving in good time I took Bob son a quick visit the lighthouse by way of whetting the appetite for the morning and we found not only a resting Cormorant but a fishing Sandwich Tern.  A female Black Redstart was on the grass above the kiosk and on the roof of the yet as unopened Visitors Centre we found a sentinel Black Wheatear.  Now what will Wednesday bring - apart from a national holiday?

Birds seen:
Shelduck, Wigeon, Gadwall, Mallard, Shoveler, Teal, Red-crested Pochard, Common Pochard, Pintail, White-headed Duck, Little Grebe, Great Crested Grebe, Black-necked Grebe, Gannet, Cormorant, Night Heron, Cattle Egret, Little Egret, Grey Heron, Flamingo, Marsh Harrier, Kestrel, Merlin, Moorhen, Purple Swamphen, Coot, Black-winged Stilt, Ringed Plover, Kentish Plover, Sanderling, Dunlin, Green Sandpiper,  Common Sandpiper, Greenshank, Redshank, Turnstone, Black-headed Gull, Slender-billed Gull, Lesser Black-backed Gull, Yellow-legged Gull, Short-eared Owl, Rock Dove, Collared Dove, Hoopoe, Crested Lark, Thekla Lark, Sky Lark, Crag Martin, Grey Wagtail, White Wagtail, Meadow Pipit, Water Pipit, Robin, Black Redstart, Stonechat, Black Wheatear, Zitting Cisticola, Chiffchaff, Iberian Grey Shrike, Magpie, Spotless Starling, House Sparrow, Serin, Greenfinch, Linnet, Reed Bunting.

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