Monday 27 May 2019

A short birding break in Spain - Day 3 - mountain and wheatears

Our last day and we were up early again, this time to try our luck for Eagle owl. We arrived in darkness and walked to a sheer cliff face. We stumbled across a sounder of Wild Boar (family - we had to look up what a family of wild boar was called, sounder! Who would have thought.)  As the sky lightened, the birds began to sing, but as the minutes passed the chance of Eagle Owl lessened. Griffon Vultures stretched their wings on the cliff ledges and noisy Choughs were everywhere. Distant views of Blue Rock Thrush added the species to the trip list, and we heard then saw our first Thelka Larks, another tick for me. Spanish Ibex were dotted about the cliffs seemingly balancing precariously on the edge. We never did see the owl, but we did hear its distinctive deep hoot. Half a tick maybe. On the way back to the car we saw the only Alpine Swift of the trip. 

We moved onto El Torcel. This was a cracking place, and we were advised to get there early as it gets very busy and noisy with school parties. When we arrived it was quiet and there were birds everywhere among the spectacular rocky outcrops. We added Rock Sparrow (tick), Rock Bunting, Subalpine Warbler, Crag Martin, Orpheon Warbler, Black Redstart and Cirl Bunting.
 Typical distant view of Blue Rock Thrush

We left as the hoards arrived and headed down the hill to Wheatear central. We were treated to fantastic views of Black Eared Wheatear. Black Wheatear showed well, but more distantly.
 Black Eared Wheatear

 Griffon Vulture
 Rock Bunting

 Can you tell what it is yet? A skulky Subalpine Warbler

Thekla Lark

Another stop just down the road on the off chance for Bonellis Eagle, and 15 minutes later boom! One appeared over the cliff top, another life tick.    

Our final stop before heading to the airport was to Hoz de Marin. A wooded valley with a small river running through. It was seriously hot buy this point and we were somewhat flagging. I didn't manage any photos, but we did see some good birds, including Azure Winged Magpie (tick), Golden Oriole and Short Toed Treecreeper, of note.   

It was a fantastic short break, which I would highly recommend. We saw 153 species in total, including 16 lifers.  Everything went well and was very well organised. Thanks to Dave Morrison and Lee Brown for a great trip. Look forward to another one.    

Sunday 26 May 2019

A short birding break to Spain - Day 2 - the arid low lands

If you thought the photos in the last blog post from my Spain trip were pretty poor, then you ain't seen nothing yet, but it does at least give you the idea of what it was like. It was a great trip with loads of good birds seen, but many were not close. If it's photos you are after, you may be disappointed.

After an early start and a traditional yummy Spanish breakfast on route we found ourselves in farm land looking for bustards. Luckily we drive right past a Little Bustard (life tick for me)hidden in crops in a field, just 20 feet from the road, we slowly reversed the car but it flushed and flew off into the distance. We heard another and gave it 20 minutes, but never gave it up. Whilst waiting we had our only Purple Heron of the trip (flyover), a few Turtle Doves, our first Montague's Harrier, Hoopoes, Red Rumped Swallows and quite a few Gull Billed Terns.       

Our next stop a few minutes away we were on the look out for Great Bustard. None were in the fields at first.  A Quail provided background music to our scouring and a White Stork flew in. Somehow while looking at the stork, two Great Bustards had flown in and were standing out in the open at the far end of the field in front of us. My second life tick of the morning.         
Great Bustards

On we continued, stopping along the way, picking up a Spectacled Warbler, more, but distant Great Bustards and White Storks. A hovering bird caught my attention as we drove along. The usual call of "Hang on, what's this?" and bingo! A Black Winged Kite. This was Dave's number 1 target bird of the trip. We had good views, and my photos really don't do it justice.    

This stop turned out to be really fruitful with numerous Lesser Kestrel, a singing male Golden Oriole, Bee eaters, more Montys and then an amazing fly past, right over head, of fourteen Honey Buzzard. Dave spotted raptors kettling in the distance and very fortunately they decided to fly right over our heads. An Eqyption Vulture was also added to the trip list.

Lesser Kestrel

Honey Buzzards


Dave Mo on the look out for Collared Pratincoles

Collared Practincole

A stop on a bridge overlooking a vast area where bulls, being bred for bull fighting, contained Glossy Ibis, a flock of about 20 Collared Praticoles, 2 Black Bellied Sandgrouse and Calandra Larks (both ticks).

Next stop on the hunt for Roller. An abandoned farm building and surrounding area produced Little Owl,  more Lesser Kestrels, Spanish Sparrow and Rollers. Four or five were seen. Ironically, I have seen on in the UK before but not one on numerous trips to Spain! 

It was now getting seriously hot. A stop for lunch and we were back on the road. The temperature gauge in the car read 36c. We were around Osuna, one of the hottest parts of Spain. We birded mainly from the car for the next hour or two, picking up Tawny Pipit, Short Toed Lark, Black Headed Wagtail, Olivacious Warbler, Spotted flycatcher, which was surprisingly our only one of the trip  

Tawny Pipit

Spanish Sparrow

Short Toed Lark - honest

On route home, we stopped at a Fuenta De Piedra Hombre. It is a small lake along side the road that contained an amazing number of birds.  Here we had Greenshank, Wood Sandpiper, Little Stint, Black Tern, Whiskered Tern, Glossy Ibis, Slender billed Gull, Common Sandpiper and a fly by Great Spotted Cuckoo.  

It was a great day. Many quality birds were seen, including 5 life ticks for me. 

Thursday 23 May 2019

A short birding break in Spain - Malaga and beyond - Day 1 Guadahorce Reserve

It was one Friday night over a pint or three, that good pal Dave Morrison suggested a short birding break to southern Spain. I was well up for it from the off and we were soon joined by, another local birder and good friend, Lee Brown. Dave already had dates in mid and a rough itinerary.

We booked cheap flights from Southend to Malaga (£45 return - hand luggage only) and 3 nights in a strategically located hotel (Camanile - £160 for 3 nights) just a short walk from the entrance to the Guadahorce reserve. The plan was to bird the reserve ourselves on day 1 and then on days 2 and 3 hire a guide and venture further afield.

Day 1:

We arrived in the evening, sank a couple of quick beers and it was off to bed for an early start. It was a 15 minute walk to the reserve. We arrived in twilight with the air alive with the sound of bird song; Nightingales, Zitting Cisticolas, Serins, the place buzzing.

Red Rumped Swallows were common, more plentiful than Barn Swallows and there was a good smattering of Pallid Swifts in with the commons. Within half an hour we had a flock (6) Squacco Heron flew on to the reserve, soon joined by a larger more mobile flock of Greater Flamingo - a life tick for me!

We spent the next 6 to 7 hours walking the reserve. As expected as the sun came up it was getting hot, the birds were becoming less active and we were in need of food, drink and a rest. We headed back to the hotel for a couple of cold ones and a pizza to refuel.       

(don't get too excited - none o the photos below will win any prizes. Despite the birding being excellent, the photo ops in many places were not quite as good)         

 Black Winged Stilt - very common

 Kentish Plover - common

 Woodchat Shrike - one of only 2 seen all trip surprisingly

 Kentish Plover - common

 Greater Flamingo - 1st of my 14 ticks of the trip

 Olivacious Warbler - tick no 2

 Bee Eater

Booted Eagle

After a 90 minute break we headed back to the reserve for round 2. Even though it was a Wednesday it was a public holiday in Spain so it was pretty busy. We added Curlew Sandpiper and Fudge Duck to the trip list. 

By the time we got back to the hotel for more beers and food we had covered 21k!

Day one we racked up 74 species, including four ticks for me, the two aforementioined plus Slender Billed Gull and White Headed Duck. Other notable birds were: Auduines gull, Crested Lark, Turtle Dove, Black Crowned Night Heron and Whiskered Tern