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Saturday 29 April 2017, Wokingham, partly cloudy, light S-SE wind, 14C

Haven't been out much for the past couple of weeks due to various appointments and the small matter of redecorating the flat! The sighting of a superb drake Garganey on the local gravel pit/lake was the highlight.
I'm missing the raptor migration over Gaucin, though I need to be vigilant as someone saw two Hobby over their house just a couple of km from us!
Some photos from the local pits/lakes.....

drake Garganey

drake Garganey

drake Garganey with Tufted Duck

Great-spotted Woodpecker

Lapwing

Lavell's Lake in the early morning mist

Footpath to the hide

River Loddon

Ring-necked Parakeet

4 - DAY BIRDING TOUR (based in Gaucin) - DAY 4

SAN PABLO PIG FARM – MARCHENILLA TRACK – RIO HOZGARGANTE – LA JANDA – VEJER – BARBATE MARSHES

WEATHER: sunshine all day, light westerly wind. Top temp 23C.

We were back down to just the two of us today, Jimmy and I left Gaucin at 8am and headed towards the coast along the Algeciras road. At San Pablo we turned onto the San Martin road and headed for the pig farm. Jimmy wanted a better picture of Bee-eater and an early morning visit would give us the right light conditions. Jimmy had a choice of over 100 Bee-eaters to choose from, he took his time and got some great shots. We also saw Raven, Booted Eagle and Griffon Vulture whilst at the pig-pens.


European Bee-eater

The Marchenilla Track was close by and offered a short-cut back to the Algeciras road so we drove the entire track into the ‘hamlet’ of Marchenilla. We made many short stops along the way, Jimmy went berserk with his camera, his best shots were of Corn Bunting, Stonechat and Tawny Pipit.

 
Common or Northern Ravens

A quick visit to the Rio Hozgargante was made as we arrived at the Algeciras road, we simply hopped across the main road and drove a couple of hundred meters to the river. We had hoped to see Golden Oriole but having heard one calling we couldn’t locate it. Other species seen included Firecrest, Short-toed Treecreeper, Jay, Blackcap, Robin, Blue Tit and several, unseen Common Nightingales sang out loud.


Tawny Pipit


It was approaching 10:30  when we finally set off for Tarifa, but even then a couple of stops delayed us. The first was at the Lesser Kestrel Colony near Castellar where we watched only 4 or 5 Kestrels and the second was at the San Roque White Stork colony where we got great views of the newly hatched Stork chicks in the nest. A seasonal pool nearby held 4 Little Grebes and 5 Little Egrets.

We by-passed Tarifa and headed directly for La Janda where we spent a couple of hours driving along the central track and then the road to Benalup. I can’t say that there were too many highlights because it was quite barren with no water in the newly ploughed rice fields. A couple of Marsh Harriers drifted by, also White Storks, a single Glossy Ibis and innumerable Cattle Egrets. Lots of Corn Buntings, Linnets, Goldfinches and a few Zitting Cisticola were seen.


Red-rumped Swallow

The huge Cattle Egret colony found on the Benalup track is now in full swing, full of noise, movement and territorial squabbles, a few pairs of Glossy Ibis were also nest-building. We also had great views of both Red-legged Partridge and Red-rumped Swallows at the end of the track.

A brief stop at Montonmedia Golf Course produced nothing more than a single Hoopoe, lots of Jackdaws and several Woodpigeons. The Bald Ibis colony at Vejer was fairly quiet as all the birds are sitting on eggs at the moment, a couple of birds were seen in flight.

At Barbate marshes we had wonderful afternoon light and plenty of birds to look at. There are probably over 100 pairs of Collared Pratincoles breeding on the islands and about 3 pairs of Stone Curlew. Lots of Short-toed Larks joined Crested Larks, Tawny Pipits and Northern Wheatears onto our sightings list. Many Western Yellow Wagtails could be seen of three races, iberiae, flava and flavissimo.


Collared Pratincoles


Lots of waders were out on the marsh we logged Pied Avocet, Sanderling, Dunlin, Ringed and Kentish Plover and Black-winged Stilt. We also found Calandra Larks, Woodchat Shrikes and a single Orphean Warbler fed in the bushes.


Western Yellow Wagtail - the British version ​flavissimo

We left Barbate at 4pm making a stop at the Mirador de Estrecho where Jimmy took some pictures of Morocco across the Strait of Gibraltar. We arrived back to a very busy Gaucin, crowds were gathering in preparation for Easter celebrations including a ‘Bull Run’, how nice – I’m so glad we are off to Coto Donana early tomorrow morning.

This ended our min-tour around Gaucin, we had seen just under 120 species and had some wonderful weather during the tour.

IF YOU WANT TO FOLLOW OUR ADVENTURES IN COTO DONANA THEN CHECK OUT THE WINGSPAN BLOG AT:

WWW.WINGSPANBIRDTOURS.COM/BLOG

4 - DAY BIRDING TOUR (based in Gaucin) - DAY 3

GAUCIN SWEET-CHESTNUT WOODS – ENCINAS BORRACHAS TRACK – SIERRA DE LAS NIEVES NATURAL PARK

WEATHER: Sunshine all day, very nice cooling breeze, top temp 23C

It was a lovely, windless, beautiful sunny morning. Today we were joined by Paul and Claire, regular visitors to the village and also home owners in Gaucin. They have participated in several previous trips and they arrived on time at 8am.

Our first stop was at the chestnut woods about 2km east of the village. There was quite a lot of bird activity in the bare branches of these ancient chestnut, deciduous trees. We quickly found Blue Tit, Great Tit, European Robin, Serin, Crested Tit, Eurasian Nuthatch, Great Spotted Woodpecker (drumming) and Common Chaffinch.


Claire and Paul

We had to walk a few meters into the cork oak woods in order to find our first target bird, it took a short while before we heard one. At first it was difficult to locate a singing Iberian Chiffchaff but when we did it showed very well. As did a Firecrest later in the walk.

Our journey towards Ronda and our next birding destination was interrupted by a couple of impromptu stops, first we jumped out of the car to look for a Rock Sparrow which promptly disappeared and a little later a second bird was seen on a roadside wall. This second stop proved quite productive as we found a number of species including Rock Bunting, Red-legged Partridge, Black-eared Wheatear, Blue Rock Thrush, Common Kestrel, Eurasian Linnet and another brief glimpse of Rock Sparrow. As we pulled away from this site a Rock Bunting perched very close to the car and gave us all great views of it.

We arrived at the Encinas Borrachas track not long after 9:30am, the weather was just perfect with sunshine, no wind and superb light, we could see and identify birds perched about ½ a mile away up on the mountains. We spent the next 3 hours walking through some beautiful scenery across a number of habitats. Open grass meadows gave way to rocky scree then rocky slopes gave way to the huge cliff-faces of limestone mountains. In this area we found more Black-eared Wheatears, Iberian Shrike, Goldfinches, Linnets and Thekla Larks. Up on the mountain peaks we noted Black Wheatear, Blue Rock Thrush and a couple of raptors, Griffon Vulture and Common Kestrel.


Western Orphean Warbler

The landscape changed as we continued our walk, the open grass meadow gave way to scattered tamarisk and broom shrubs which in turn gave way to heathland scrub with more densely packed low gorse scrub. There we found Common Stonechat, Spectacled Warbler and a couple more Rock Buntings. A Common Cuckoo perched on a fence calling and a Woodlark fed on the grass verge.

The heathland changed abruptly over the next ridge as we walked into a steeply-sloped gorge covered in oak trees, a different set of birds was seen and heard there. It was ‘warbler-day’ today as over the next hour we had fantastic sightings of Orphean, Subalpine and Bonelli’s Warbler, they were all out in full view singing their little hearts out. A pair of Woodchat Shrikes was nice to see too and up in the sky we saw Red-billed Chough, Booted Eagle, Marsh Harrier and a few Barn Swallows, some distant swifts were too far away to identify.


Subalpine Warbler

It was 1pm as we returned to the car, we drove to the Sierra de las Nieves natural park near Ronda. We sat and ate lunch at the picnic site near the entrance along with quite a number of other people who were out enjoying the Good Friday Easter Holiday.

We spent our last 2-3 hours walking tracks and trails and we ventured through both oak and pine woodland, rocky gorges and open heathland. Our warbler theme continued as we had excellent views of Willow Warbler and Cirl Bunting at a drinking trough and even better views of Dartford Warbler on the heath.


Dartford Warbler



We spent the last hour or so in pine woods where we found Firecrest, Coal Tit, Great-spotted Woodpecker, Short-toed Treecreeper and a possible Goshawk, it gave us short, tiny glimpses as it flew low over the pine forest.

We left the park around 5pm and headed back to Gaucin, it had been a lovely day and although we had only seen 45 species we had had some quality sightings to cherish forever. It was really nice to meet up with Paul and Claire once again.

4 - DAY BIRDING TOUR (based in Gaucin) - DAY 2

RIO GENAL – RIO GUADIARO – SAN ENRIQUE WOODS – MARCHENILLA TRACK

WEATHER: another day of sunshine, very little wind. Top temp 31C

Considering that this is the peak migration period it was very quiet at the Rio Genal, in fact as far as migrant bird species was concerned it was dead. We saw Serin, Blackcap, White Wagtail and we heard a couple of Cetti’s Warblers and we had a brief view of Common Nightingale. We added a Woodchat Shrike as we continued along the track and a Short-toed Eagle sat on a pylon.


view of Sierra Crestellina from the Rio Genal track
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On our way back to the car we watched two Eurasian Sparrowhawks fighting an aerial battle whilst Griffon Vultures drifted passed very high up and four Grey Herons moved slowly up the river.
By the time we reached the Guadiaro Valley-Track leading to Secadero the temperature was over 20C. We stopped several times as we worked our way down to the river; we watched Cirl Buntings, Corn Buntings, Crested Larks, Stonechats, Tawny Pipits, Linnets and lots of Goldfinches.

At the river we saw several parties of European Bee-eater, also our first Turtle Dove, a few more Blackcaps, Sardinian Warbler, Little-ringed Plover, Common Sandpiper, Great Cormorant and a single Marsh Harrier. The sky was devoid of raptors except for small numbers of Griffon Vultures.


Common Nightingale

Further down the track we searched for Olivaceous Warbler without success, Common Stonechats were everywhere, also Greenfinches and Goldfinches. A Green Sandpiper, two White Storks and a Booted Eagle was all we added before we drove to Secadero and on to San Enrique.

San Enrique Woods was also quiet except for small numbers of Serins feeding in the grass. We sat in the car and ate our picnic lunch before going for a stroll! After 10 minutes we found a Wryneck up in the trees, it showed well at times but never stopped in one place long enough for us to take a picture. An Iberian Chiffchaff was tracked down after we heard it singing, that bird did show well as did a Eurasian Jay.

A quick scan of a ploughed field outside the wood produced both House and Tree Sparrows, Spotless Starlings, Bee-eaters and Goldfinches, we also found a Spotted Flycatcher near the sewer works.


Zitting Cisticola

From San Enrique we drove through San Martin towards San Pablo stopping twice, the first time to admire a couple of Little Owls and then for a coffee. From there we walked to the Marchenilla track where we spent a couple of hours in lovely afternoon sunlight. We found at least 4 singing Melodious Warblers, considering just a few days ago there wasn’t a single one there, migration must be happening. Some quite showy Common Nightingales filled the air with their beautiful songs, Common Whitethroat, Zitting Cisticola, Greenfinch, Sardinian Warbler and Blackcap added their best efforts too.


Melodious Warbler

Our last birding of the day was at a pig farm not far away. Jimmy was determined to get a good photograph of a European Bee-eater and at least 40 pairs were nesting in the steep sloping fields of the pig farm. After nearly an hour of frustration Jimmy gave up, it wasn’t his fault that he couldn’t get his picture,  it was the light, the camera and the birds, they kept moving!!

This concluded our birding, it was a little disappointing as far as migrants was concerned but I could see a definite improvement over last week’s efforts.

4 - DAY BIRDING TOUR (based in Gaucin) - DAY 1

MALAGA AIRPORT – DESEMBOCADURA DE GUADALHORCE NATURAL PARK – GAUCIN

WEATHER:  wall to wall sunshine, light breeze, top temp 23C

The weather was back to being just beautiful, with lovely light and a cooling breeze. At Malaga Airport I dropped Mike off at departures and after a short break I went down to arrivals to collect Jimmy, a Scottish guy, who lives in Switzerland and teaches languages.

Jimmy is staying with us for four day before he joins part of my tour of Coto Donana and Extremadura, he arrived on time at 2pm. Once in the car we drove straight round to the local nature reserve at Guadalmar, called Desembocadura de Guadalhorce.


Map of the Desembocadura de Guadalhorce - The binocular symbol denotes the hides

We had a great two hours walking along the tracks and visiting the hides that overlook a number of lagoons, we recorded over 40 species a couple of Red-rumped Swallows were our first birds, they sat obligingly in a nearby tree.


Red-rumped Swallow


A Eurasian Hoopoe on the track was nice to see too, especially one with its crest raised.

 The first lagoon did not produce much, we saw Common Pochard, Little Grebes, Moorhens and Eurasian Coots. We searched for the RED-KNOBBED COOT which was a mega find here last week but alas it must have gone.

The next lagoon had a large number of Black-winged Stilts, a single Common Redshank and a single Common Snipe, but not much else, so we moved onto the third lagoon which is far more open and has more exposed muddy banks. A good number of waders were feeding there with several species present. We listed; Kentish Plover, Sanderling, Common Redshank, Common Greenshank, Common Sandpiper, Oystercatcher, Black-winged Stilt and Pied Avocet.


White-headed Duck washing.

On our return walk we watched Zitting Cisticola, Cetti’s Warbler (heard), Greenfinches and a few groups of Monk Parakeets. From a raised mound we had great views of Laguna de la Casilla from where we found two PURPLE HERONS.

We visited two more hides but it was the Laguna Grande that produced the most, new species, from a raised hide we watched; Eurasian Spoonbill, Common Tern, Gadwall, Black-headed Gull, Great Cormorant, Little Ringed Plover and lots more Stilts.


View of Rio Vieja (old river) looking down towards the beach

During our walked back we bumped into another Eurasian Hoopoe, some Serins, Sardinian Warbler, Common Kestrel and Red-rumped Swallows.

After stopping to buy supplies we set off at 5pm for Gaucin, my home village in Andalucia. We never had time to stop but we saw  several Griffon Vultures circling above Sierra Crestellina.


some of the Stilts are sitting on eggs

We eventually arrived at Gaucin around 6:30pm where we enjoyed a cold drink and a delicious home-cooked fish dinner, provided by my lovely wife Dawn.

7 - Day Birding Tour (based in Gaucin) - Day 7

TARIFA – LOS LANCES BEACH – LA JANDA – VEJER - BARBATE MARSHES

WEATHER: cloudy to start then unbroken sunshine, moderate to strong easterly wind, top temp 19C

Our final day had arrived and we hoped that the strong wind which had hampered our birding throughout the week had abated! As we left Gaucin at 8am we noticed it was calm, no wind so far, but by the time we had reached the coast at Algeciras it was very windy once again.

At Tarifa it was windy but bearable, we walked to the hide on Los Lances beach from the main N340/A7. En-route we had notched up a list of several species; White Stork, Griffon Vulture, Common Kestrel, Crested Lark and lots of Barn Swallows.

Corn Buntings sang from fence-posts, a Skylark sat on the grass and a Northern Wheatear dashed in front of us as we walked to the beach. From the hide we found a good number of Sanderling, Ringed Plover, Dunlin and Grey Plover, there were fewer numbers of Common Redshank and Kentish Plover.


Kentish Plover
7
A group of distant Sandwich Terns sat on the beach with a single Mediterranean Gull, even further away were groups of both Yellow-legged and Black-headed Gulls. A few Northern Gannets battled against the wind out at sea.

During our return walk we added Greater Short-toed Lark to our trip list and saw very little else. Next stop was La Janda, I have never recorded so few species in any of my previous visits! I think that the current ploughed rice fields has a lot to do with bird numbers, it was like a barren, dry desert. We did see Woodchat Shrike, a very obliging Calandra Lark, lots of Linnets, Goldfinches, House Sparrows and Corn Buntings.


Calandra Lark - taken by Mike Ream

Dozens of Cattle Egrets followed the tractors as they farrowed the fields, but not a single stork, heron, ibis, spoonbill or raptor was seen as we drove along the central track. Turning onto the Benalup track we crawled passed the ‘egret nesting-colony’ where hundreds of Cattle Egrets tried to stay perched in the strong winds.


Cattle Egret in full breeding plumage - another of Mike's photos

We ate lunch near the ‘smelly farm’ where Red-legged Partridges, Common Pheasant, Eurasian Jackdaw, Marsh Harrier,  a dozen Black Kites and a swirling ‘kettle’ of some 200 White Storks was seen. A single Egyptian Vulture, Short-toed Eagle, Booted Eagle and more Black Kites were also seen from near the farm. As we drove off La Janda we stopped to watch a female Montagu’s Harrier and another Marsh Harrier.

At Montonmedia Golf Course we searched the mixed woodland for migrant warblers, but all we got was 2 Eurasian Hoopoes and a single Pied Flycatcher. Vejer provided our sighting of Bald Ibis, we viewed one of the nesting colonies where 11 pairs were sitting on eggs alongside dozens of Eurasian Jackdaws.

Barbate Marshes provided the venue for our best birding of the day. We watched over 70 Collared Pratincoles, a pair of Stone Curlews and our only sighting of Audouin’s Gull. Along the track around the marsh we saw a dozen Northern Wheatears, 4 Tawny Pipits, Yellow Wagtails, Corn Buntings and several Crested Larks.


Collared Pratincoles - Mike Ream

Other birds seen out on the marsh include: Great Egret, Eurasian Spoonbill, Dunlin, Common Greenshank, Common Redshank, Grey Plover, Ringed Plover, Little Stint and Black-winged Stilt.
We made our way back to Gaucin stopping at the Mirador de Estrecho where we looked over to Morocco through hazy cloud. Several raptors were working their way eastward against the wind, we saw Black Kites, Booted Eagles, a single Sparrowhawk and lots of Griffon Vultures.

Well that ended our 7-day tour, we headed back to Gaucin arriving around 5pm. Our trip count had reached 153 with another 5 species heard but not seen. It had been a tough week, we had endured 4 days of very windy conditions and I’m sure that bird migration had been disrupted because of this. Tomorrow I take Mike back to Malaga Airport and collect Jimmy who is staying for a 4-day birding tour.

7-Day Birding Tour (based in Gaucin) Day 6

LAGUNA MEDINA – LAGUNA JUNCOSA – SANLUCAR POOLS – BONANZA SALT PANS – TREBUJENA MARSHES – CHIPIONA SEAFRONT – CASARES

WEATHER: sunshine all day, windy at first. Top temp 28C.

A full-on day today we were out from 7:15am until 10:15pm and we travelled quite a distance! We set off after an early breakfast and headed for the coast along the Gaucin-Algeciras Road, noting plenty of White Storks around Castellar and San Roque. It got light as we turned inland at Los Barrios and headed for Jerez. Further sightings along this road included Griffon Vultures, Common Buzzard, Cattle Egret and lots of Jackdaws.


Yellow Wagtail

At Laguna Medina, near Jerez, it was quite windy so our sightings of small passerines was limited. We could hear plenty of Common Nightingales, Cetti’s Warblers, Blackcaps and Sardinian Warblers but only got brief views of them. Gold and Greenfinches were everywhere and along with Crested Lark and Zitting Cisticola were the most common sightings.

From the only hide we scanned this huge laguna which held precious little bird-life, the water level was quite high but birds were scarce. Two Common Shelduck, three Black-necked Grebes and two Great-crested Grebes were out on the main body of water. Common Coot, Common Moorhen and a few Mallards fed around the edges, in the far corner a flock of Northern Shoveler fed. A single Glossy Ibis made a lovely fly-pass its glossy sheen of iridescent greens and blues looked lovely in the morning light.

Further walking along the main track produced Common Cuckoo (heard), Reed Warbler (heard) and Marsh Harrier, none of the expected migrant flycatchers, redstarts or sylvia warblers were present, we left a bit disappointed. This laguna used to be covered in birds but since Common Carp were put in there bird numbers have plummeted, the greedy carp have eaten everything!

After a coffee stop we visited a small seasonal pool near Sanlucar where we watched both Common and Red-crested Pochard but not much more. A distant Collared Pratincole sat in a ploughed field, a beautiful Montagu’s Harrier quartered another field whilst Little and Cattle Egrets fed around the pool edges. Lots of Common Swifts joined Sand Martins, Barn Swallows, and House Martins in the sky above the pool.


Slender-billed Gulls

The much smaller pools around Sanlucar held too much water they seemed to be bursting their banks, this had a negative effect on the number of waders present and the lack of Purple Swamphen sightings. Lots of White-headed Ducks joined the two Pochard species with many Coots and Moorhens, Little Grebes and Little Egrets. I saw a Little Bittern in flight but Mike missed it and we both watched Common Waxbills in the reeds.

At Bonanza salt pans we spent a good two hours watching a good number of species, the wind had dropped here, it was very warm with just a light breeze, the light and heat-haze was a bit intense. We added many new species to our list including: Osprey, Caspian, Little and Gull-billed Terns, Slender-billed Gulls, lots of waders and plenty of Yellow Wagtails. A flock of some 50+ Collared Pratincoles hawked for insects high above the pans and Black Kites appeared constantly and a single Whinchat sat on a fen cline.

Laguna Tarelo at the back of the salt pans held a lot of birds, no new ducks for us but a ‘herony’ on the island was a busy place. We watched Night Herons, Squacco Herons, Eurasian Spoonbills, Little and Cattle Egrets all vying for real estate space! We found a couple of Mediterranean Chameleons in the tamarisk bushes there.


Mediterranean Chameleon

We passed through Algaida Pine Woods and onto the Marshes at Trebujena, it was there that we found a ROLLER sitting on a powerline, a Common Cuckoo did likewise. A few Northern Wheatears and a flock of some twenty Eurasian Spoonbills joined White Storks and Black Kites up on the thermals were our other sightings.


Can you see: Spoonbill, Little and Cattle Egrets, Night Heron and a Glossy Ibis?

From Trebujena we drove to Chipiona some 30 kilometers away, Chipiona is a lovely seaside town and has hosted a colony of the rare LITTLE SWIFT for some years now, we arrived at 4:30pm. It was well worth the effort as we had great views of about 20 Little Swifts as they visited their nests in an active warehouse building near the marina. We also noted our first Ruddy Turnstones of the trip.


Ruddy Turnstones

Our day wasn’t over yet! We drove back to Algeciras and along the coast to Manilva where had dinner, Marlow’s Fish and Chip restaurant serve the best F and C’s in the whole of Spain! We left there at 8pm and drove to Casares to visit my good friends Penny and John. They have regular visits and sightings of Eurasian Eagle Owl on their plot near the town of Casares. We waited until dusk, two Owls called but alas they failed to show, so we left slightly disappointed.

Two very tired birders returned to Gaucin at 10:15pm, good night!