Wednesday 30 December 2020

Almeria Province

Dotterels Charadrius morinellus

 Tuesday 29 December

The promise of a lovely sunny day so decided to pay a visit to Almeria province in the hope that the wintering Dotterel might still be on site along with the resident Trumpeter Finches.  But first, a very early start so that I could also check out both Las Norias and the pools at Roquetas de Mar and still arrive in Cabo de Gata by noon, so giving me a good four hours birding to find my target birds.

Still dark at 6.50 when I set out for Las Norias using the nearby A7 Mediterranean Motorway and duly arrived at the awful, plastic covered, rubbish strewn, large lake at Las Norias. (11C when I left Mezquitilla but down to 6 when I arrived at Las Norias!) A small number of Cattle Egret were resting by a flooded field as I arrived along with the local House Sparrows.  Daylight had only just arrived at 8.20 and the water covered in a thin mist but I could make out a number of Cormorant and a couple of Heron to the west of the first (road) causeway.   To the east a good number of Shoveler and a single Moorhen plus a couple of Mallard.  Back to the other side of the road and Great Crested Grebes recorded whilst above me very many early-feeding Crag Martins.  About to move on to the causeway near the plastic recycling works when a lone Night Heron flew over the road above me.

A little clearer from the topmost causeway but very few birds and by now the penetrating but very low Sun was straight into me eyes.  However, still apparent that a number of Red-crested Pochard were on the eastern side along with a handful of Coot.  A walk alongside the sheep farm no longer had clear views of the water but it did reveal a number of Collared Doves in the large bare tree (where I usually see my first Turtle Doves of the year) and as I returned a Booted Eagle took off from the neighbouring smaller trees.  At the same time, I also began to notice the very large numbers of Spotless Starlings as a White Wagtail wandered around the grassy field at the other end of the causeway.  Another walk to the water's edge also revealed both Chiffchaff and the first Black Redstart of the day.  All the gulls on show confirmed to be Lesser Black-backed and as I set off towards San Augustin and the nearby salinas I also picked up both Jackdaws and Rock Doves.

Very little to be seen from the track leading to the lighthouse other than a few relatively nearby Flamingos and more Lesser Black-backed Gulls.  No Slender-billed Gulls on this occasion.  On the other hand, as I returned to the main road I noticed a few Stonechat and a lone Zitting Cisticola put in an appearance.  Back on the road and a left turn took me to the nearby sharp inland turn where I carried on along the wide track seeing more Stonechat and also picking up the first Crested Larks before taking the turn towards the beach. An early sighting of a Bluethroat to my left I had hoped to reach a hidden pool at the far end but was surprised, considering the lack of rain for such a long period, to find the track completely flooded for about twenty metres and not too sure of either the depth  of the water or condition of the concealed track below, I decided not to venture forward.   Shame as I had hoped this water might, as in the past, hold some resting Golden Plover. Probably just as well that I had seen the Iberian Magpie cross the track in front of me as I made my way to this point.  So, all turned round for the return journey when I had to stop, look hard, shake my head and lift up the camera to take some record shots through the windscreen.  There, on the edge of the track below a wooden rail on the right was a Wryneck.  Eventually, I took a chance to exit on the left, kept low and tried to get a couple of now, partly concealed bird but it eventually flew away into the shrubs. This, almost back at the main track, was followed by both a Sardinian Warbler and more Crested Larks.

Wryneck Jynx torquilla  Note the lovely pattern on the back

Driving on to Roquetas de Mar a few more Stonechats on the wires along with a (Common) Magpie and then the fresh water lake, looking absolutely full of water birds.  mainly Black-headed along with a smaller number of Lesser Black-backed Gulls and hundreds of Coots whereas to my left as I observed from the road on the southern side I could see numerous Common along with just a few Red-crested Pochard.  Just a handful of Mallard and at least a quartet of Gadwall but also very many Little and a single Black-necked Grebe recorded.

A very good start so I decided I might just as well visit the small pool just inside the reserve where, to my surprise, not just a number of Mallard and a Common Pochard but also a pair of White-headed Duck.  These are very friendly birds used to visitors that seem to expect to be fed so no sign of them making a dash for cover as I parked next to the water.  Also present both Moorhen and Common Coot along with the local House Sparrows.  Then, to my right, a Purple Swamphen put in the briefest of appearances before I did head further into the area to see if there was any shallow water.  All looking relatively dry but apart from the very many Shoveler on the main salinas, I did also note a number of both Shelduck and Black-winged Stilts.  Now well on schedule as I headed back to the fresh water lake noting both Black Redstarts and Chiffchaff before seeing the Blackbird fly across the road in front of me as I headed off back towards the motorway for the final leg of my outward journey.

White-headed Duck Oxyura leucocephala with the male's beak starting to turn blue

I had hoped to arrive in Cabo de Gata by noon but, in the event, I actually reached the first hide approaching the village before 11.45.  Again, given the time of day, the sun was still quite low and shining almost straight towards me.  But looking on the bright side (no pun intended), it should be much better when visiting the remaining hides.  Even facing the Sun it was obvious that there were a good number of Flamingo present yet the water level was very low and a definite lack of waders to be seen from this hide. A couple of Black-tailed Godwits to my left and a single Redshank to my far right.  Above still very many Crag Martins and checking the scrub land to my right I picked up more Stonechats and also a "sleeping" Stone Curlew, but no Eurasian Curlew on this occasion. Still very many Spotless Starlings about and behind me on the wires an Iberian Grey Shrike, the first of four to be seen at Cabo de Gata.

Next up Hide 1 on the road along the front.  Lots of Flamingo and away to my far right I could make out a small group of Spoonbill.  A Green Sandpiper dashed along the channel below me to the right whilst I continued to identify Yellow-legged, Lesser Black-backed and Black-headed Gulls.  Checking the godwits, I was somewhat a little surprised to find a handful of Bar-tailed feeding alongside nearby Black-tailed Godwits.  In the scrubland to my right I watched a female Kestrel trying to take a small bird but the latter survived to live another day.  Just before departing a Little Egret flew in to the water in front and, making my way back to the car, a Hoopoe flew and alighted in a tree on my right.

Sleepy Spoonbills Platalea leucorodia

Once under way I drove very slowly along the sandy strip between road and beach keeping my eyes open for the wintering Dotterel.  Just as I thought my luck was in I stopped to check the six House Sparrows feeding next to the single Dotterel, the former turned out to be Trumpeter Finches and the Dotterel "just another" Trumpeter Finch preening itself whilst standing on a small white stone.  Not that I was not complaining!

Trumpeter Finches Bucanetes githagineus

Hide 2 produced yet more Flamingos and Cormorants along with a small group of Dunlin.  Walking back to the car a couple of Thekla Larks and a Meadow Pipit were recorded and, once again, a slow drive alongside the beach as before.  But no luck with the Dotterel so made my way to the Public Hide. The main water in front of the hide was very the same as before but I did manage to identify a few more small waders including Common Sandpiper and Kentish Plover. To the right was the usual gathering of mixed gulls along with as many as a dozen Sandwich Terns.

Flamingos Phoenicopterus roseus playing at being aquatic meercats!

Then it was of up the steep hill and over the top to descend to the lighthouse.  A number of visitors but no birds other than the odd Lesser Black-backed Gull.  A short drive up the now badly deteriorating road towards the mirador.  No sooner on this road and another Trumpeter Finch then a trio of Black Wheatears on the wires.  But soon time to give the rest of the road a miss and make my way back over the steep hill.   A short drive down the track from the roundabout to the back of the salinas provided more Stonechats and on one of the shallow salinas a Little Stint feeding alongside a Kentish Plover.

Black Wheatear Oenanthe leucura

Return journey complete and back towards the Public Hide to once more drive slowly along the sandy roadside alongside the beach just in case the Dotterels were about and simply missed on the original inspection.  No sooner had I travelled a few meters and there they were, not one but at least a dozen.  Strange little waders these as, rather than take flight, they simply move slowly on with always at least half of them making regular stops to check out the area.  Having watched the Dotterels moving behind me I simply drove onto the road, made a complete turn and parked a little ahead of them with me now sitting on the far side and awaited their arrival.  Just how many photographs can you take?

Our wonderful Dotterels Chorlito Carambola Charadrius morinellus

Now, mission accomplished with the sighting of both the Dotterel and Trumpeter Finch I made my final visit which took me to the rambla on the far side of the village.  Lots of water but no waders or ducks to be seen.  What I did see, apart from a couple of Heron, was the tightly-packed battalion of 45 Cormorants which then rushed down stream to take off towards the sea; just like watching a mass departure of a Battle of Britain bomber squadron!  Given the long drive home after the early start to the day I decided now would be an appropriate time to head off and even managed to find another couple of Iberian Grey Shrikes to keep the memory alive.  Over sixty species recorded so considered an excellent day's birding.

Birds seen:

Shelduck, Gadwall, Mallard, Shoveler, Red-crested Pochard, Common Pochard, White-headed Duck, Little Grebe, Great Crested Grebe, Black-necked Grebe, Cormorant, Night Heron, Cattle Egret, Little Egret, Heron, Spoonbill, Flamingo, Booted Eagle, Kestrel, Moorhen, Purple Swamphen, Coot,    Collared Dove, Black-winged Stilt, Stone Curlew, Kentish Plover, Dotterel, Sanderling, Little Stint, Dunlin, Black-tailed Godwit, Bar-tailed Godwit, Redshank, Green Sandpiper, Common Sandpiper, Black-headed Gull, Lesser Black-backed Gull, Yellow-legged Gull, Sandwich Tern, Rock Dove, Collared Dove, Hoopoe, Wryneck, Crested Lark, Thekla Lark, Crag Martin, Meadow Pipit, White Wagtail, Bluethroat, Black Redstart, Stonechat, Black Wheatear, Blackbird, Zitting Cisticola, Sardinian Warbler, Chiffchaff, Iberian Grey Shrike, Iberian Magpie, Magpie, Spotless Starling, House Sparrow, Trumpeter Finch.        

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

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