Wednesday 4th April 2018 (b)

BUBO in ANDALUCIA - part 5

Buoyed with our success with the Little Bustard we headed back south towards the coast for the afternoon and the skies were now blue as far as the horizon. The sun wasn't too unpleasant however since there was a pleasant breeze and we headed straight for the coastal village of Bolonia where we had good gen on an interesting species. Parking up on the road we wandered up the sandy beach where a group of 4 Kentish Plovers showed really well just in front of us. It makes you wonder why, in many parts of the world, birds will live and breed close to humans even when they get disturbed all the time by people walking past, whereas in the UK everything is very sensitive and gets disturbed so easily.

 Bolonia beach

Bolonia beach

 Kentish Plover - Bolonia beach

Kentish Plover - Bolonia beach

  Kentish Plover - Bolonia beach

Kentish Plover - Bolonia beach

We passed some ancient Roman ruins where we flushed a small warbler from the weeds to our right. It flew across and perched up on a stone wall to reveal itself to be a cracker of a male Spectacled Warbler. Its the kind of species that you read up on, because you think ID might be tricky, but when you see it in real life it's bloney obvious. And also a species I had forgotten about occurring here and so was a total surprise! Only my second sighting of this species after a single bird in the Israeli desert 25 years ago. It was showing really well but moving very quickly and I may have got better photos but there was a fence between us and the bird.

  Spectacled Warbler - Bolonia beach

Spectacled Warbler - Bolonia beach

  Spectacled Warbler - Bolonia beach

Spectacled Warbler - Bolonia beach

However, despite its quality, the Spectacled Warbler was not our quarry here on Bolonia beach. We had been given very specific directions where to go by Niki and Simon in the pub the other night that they use when doing their tours (so specific I don't want to give them away on here!). We followed these instructions and started inspecting the trees but there seemed to be a heck of a lot of bush to wander round. However, just when I was thinking it might be a needle in a haystack-type situation, I moved aside a branch, peered into the bush and came face to face with the scaly chops of a Mediterranean Chameleon! It was such a treat to see this unusual reptile slowly creep through the foliage and you could see how tricky it was to spot, being the same colour as the twigs (unsurprisingly) with the dark stripes and pale splodges to break up the body shape, mimicking patches of shadow and sunlight. They are not hugely rare in these parts but very difficult to find and we were grateful that Niki and Simon had given us such accurate instructions.

  Mediterranean Chameleon - Bolonia beach

Mediterranean Chameleon - Bolonia beach

  Mediterranean Chameleon - Bolonia beach

Mediterranean Chameleon - Bolonia beach

  Bolonia beach

Bolonia beach

We left the beach with the intention of exploring a wooded hillside above the village, hoping to maybe locate an Iberian Green Woodpecker judging from the number of recent 'dots' on the eBird maps. However, climbing the windy road up the hill we came to a military sign which told us not to progress. There was nothing in our research that said you can't drive up that road but its not a good idea to contradict such severe signage when travelling abroad, so we turned around.

We then headed back up the road away from the coast and as we ascended we noticed a group of Griffon Vultures down on the deck. We stopped the car and took a close look at them and they didn't seem too bothered about us being there, or the two or three other cars which had stopped to see what we were looking at. There was probably a carcase just out of view that they were finishing off.

 Griffon Vultures - near Bolonia

Griffon Vultures - near Bolonia

  Griffon Vultures - near Bolonia

Griffon Vultures - near Bolonia

However, I did not spend a lot of time watching the vultures as I was more interested in a lark perched up on an old wall. The habitat here was hilly and rocky and my initial impression was that the bird was a THEKLA LARK. This is a very similar species to Crested Lark, if unfamiliar with both species, but we grilled it the best we could and decided that it was a Thekla - a new species for me. It appeared to have a shorter bill than the Cresteds we'd seen and was a lot greyer and paler, with darker breast streaks in a clear pectoral band. When it faced away we could see contrasting rufous tones to the tail and uppertail coverts and it had a very clear supercilium and less obvious crest. All the Crested Larks we had seen so far were in the lowland fields and coastal dunes, so the habitat was just right for Thekla.

  Thekla Lark - near Bolonia

Thekla Lark - near Bolonia

We drove back down towards Tarifa to drive up the last hill before the town, known as La Pena. The main reason for doing this was to search for Black-eared Wheatear as this was apparently a good area for them - however, we did not find any. Initially, we clearly drove way too far up the road but this gave us great views southwards towards the straits. These hillside meadows had plenty of flowers, and plenty of insects were out in the now pretty warm weather. We saw a few Red Admirals, a Hummingbird Hawk-moth and a flashy Monarch flapped past us. Researching this after we came home, I found that this little valley is actually the epicentre of the area that Monarchs have colonised in mainland Europe. There were not many uncommon birds around here, although we did think that the larks here were also probably Thekla Larks

 La Pena

La Pena

It was now late in the afternoon and we decided that we should give La Janda one final try. This would be our 4th visit here in 24hours but we were determined to see a Black-shouldered Kite (spoiler alert : we didn't - all trip). The splendid evening weather had brought the hunting raptors out and we thought we stood a great chance of finding one. We had three species of harrier hunting the same field at one point - with ringtail Hen Harrier briefly joining the female Montagu's and two Marsh Harriers that were already there. We also saw two male Montagu's Harriers and both times, with the grey and black plumage we called out "kite!" before we realised. A new species for the trip list was a female Merlin which chased the small birds round the fields.

Other than that, it was mostly the same species we'd seen earlier in the day. The large wading birds regularly flew past us into roost and we left as the light started to dim. We visited the supermarket and I cooked up my own version of a Spanish Omelette (vegetable omelette with oven chips) and over a couple of beers, we reflected on a busy and successful day out in the field - apart from those damn kites!

 Little & Cattle Egrets - La Janda

Little & Cattle Egrets - La Janda

  Little & Cattle Egrets - La Janda

Little & Cattle Egrets - La Janda

Wednesday 4th April 2018 (a)

BUBO in ANDALUCIA - part 4

During the night there had been quite a bit of rain it seemed, as we woke up to very wet tiles on the patio. Looking outside it appeared to have mostly dried up quite pleasingly and we quickly headed straight out to the fields at La Janda where we had visited the previous evening. (Note that we went to the same spot - the end of the first track - three times today, so I may have got a bit mixed up about which birds we saw and when we saw them!).

There were still quite a few dark clouds in the skies and distant rain showers, but it was clear that the wet front was moving on past us to the east. The track at La Janda was pretty soggy and full of puddles in places, and also many of the fields were totally flooded. Usually, by this late in the spring the fields aren't this wet so we were quite lucky. The main species we wanted to see here was Black-winged Kite as we knew there was at least one wintering bird still around, so we did a lot of scanning the fields from the bank overlooking the canal. It was a case of driving a little way, stopping for a scan, the moving on a few hundred metres.

 The fields at La Janda

The fields at La Janda

Early in the morning we saw plenty of large wading birds flying in from the south-east into the wet fields to feed. Many Cattle Egrets and White Storks, along with a few Spoonbill and Glossy Ibis flocks. There were not many raptors up and about this early on, just a couple of Black Kites and Marsh Harriers. There was the start of some movement of Bee-eaters again and a few Common Swifts racing through. High above us we saw a few Collared Pratincoles, but again the views were not very close. Last night, in the fields, we had seen a few passerines but were unable to make many identifications. This morning the birds were much more active and the best were displaying Calandra Larks chasing each other over the grass, flashing their black underwings. Wagtails, both Yellow and White fed in the shorter grass and soil fields, where we picked out a couple of (Northern) Wheatears and Meadow Pipits.

 Cattle Egrets - La Janda

Cattle Egrets - La Janda

Driving a few hundred yards up the track we came across the first few of the flooded fields, a couple of which were more like shallow lakes. There were quite a few waders feeding up on their journey north but there wasn't a wide selection - mainly Dunlin and Redshank, with a few Greenshank, Common and Green Sandpipers. A single Greater Flamingo was here and a raptor perched on a pylon revealed itself to be a Peregrine rather than a hoped-for BW Kite. Purple Gallinules (Swamphens) have recently colonised this area and we flushed a single bird from the reeds beside the canal and watched it fly along the waterway. Surprisingly, this was the only individual we saw all trip.

 Flooded fields at  La Janda

Flooded fields at La Janda

  Stilts, Dunlins & Redshanks - La Janda

Stilts, Dunlins & Redshanks - La Janda

 Peregrine  - La Janda

Peregrine - La Janda

  La Janda

La Janda

A few kilometres further on we came across another area of very wet fields, and these were covered with birds. As we were sat in the car, using it as a hide, we were able to get very close. There were hundreds of White Storks everywhere, as well as numerous Spoonbills and Glossy Ibis, more than 50 of each. Gulls were also present - including a tatty young Common Gull - and a couple of Gull-billed Terns rested on the ground. Quite a few ducks had collected here including a couple of Shelduck, a male Wigeon, plus about 15 or so Garganey. It was quite the spectacle. We also had both Purple Heron and Hoopoe fly past as well as the now regular Bee-eaters.

 White Stork  - La Janda

White Stork - La Janda

 Birding at  La Janda

Birding at La Janda

 Spoonbills, White Storks & Garganeys -  La Janda

Spoonbills, White Storks & Garganeys - La Janda

 Purple Heron  - La Janda

Purple Heron - La Janda

We were struggling a bit to find raptors however - perhaps because of the still cloudy conditions - so we finished off the rough track 'loop', and returned back to the original corner of La Janda fields, via the main road. This seemed the best viewpoint and, as the sun was now shining most of the time the "sky-loving" birds started to show. We had several Short-toed Eagles and Griffon Vultures and a few more harriers, but still no small, grey kites. A single Black Stork appeared and we noticed that a big passage of swifts was happening. As many as 1000 Common Swifts had gone through pretty quickly during the morning, including what we thought were a few Pallids and there was one Alpine Swift thrown in for good measure. After a few more better views Calandra Lark we decided we'd better move on and head for somewhere new.

  Calandra Lark fields - La Janda

Calandra Lark fields - La Janda

 Fan-tailed Warbler  - La Janda

Fan-tailed Warbler - La Janda

I was really keen on seeing a bustard whilst we were here in Spain as I had never seen any very well at all, just a few brief Houbaras in Israel and a fly-by Little Bustard on the Lizard quite a few years ago. This far south in Spain is not very good for them however but we did know that there were a few Little Bustards around the town of Benalup - so we thought we'd give it a go as we weren't too far away. The sun had now come out properly and the raptors were flying. As we drove along the road to Benalup we passed a few Griffon Vultures, Black Kites and Booted Eagles flying above us.

A little further up we saw another kettle of Griffons next to a convenient stopping place and so we got out to watch them. They drifted away though quite quickly rather than circle over our heads as we wanted them to. As we were watching them through our bins, suddenly a flock of dark birds flew into our field of view. Slightly puzzled at first, we soon realised that this was a flock of 15 Bald Ibises! We knew that the birds from yesterday's colony do wander around a bit, but we thought it quite a coincidence that we'd just bump into them at a random spot at the side of the road, about 13km from their breeding colony! Quite a surprise. The birds differ in flight from Glossy Ibis as their legs do not project beyond the tail (but also because of their slapheads and yellow rings!).

 Bald Ibises & Griffon Vultures - near Benelup

Bald Ibises & Griffon Vultures - near Benelup

 Bald Ibises - near Benelup

Bald Ibises - near Benelup

I had scribbled down on a sketch map a couple of decent sites for Little Bustard near Benelup, but when we got there and headed towards them it started to look like a big ask - a huge area and very few birds. Nevertheless we were here now and we found the start of one of the tracks that someone had seen them from a few years ago. It didn't look right though - this was a track through scrub and olive groves. But, after crossing a small creek, the area opened out to some rolling grassy fields and we got out to take a look.

After only a few minutes of looking out across the tall grass and weeds, I started hearing a strange call - somewhere between a frog and a fart. It was weird and I couldn't work it out until I saw Ian walking towards me saying that was what we were looking for - a male Little Bustard display call! I couldn't believe it, not what I was expecting at all (to be honest I should have checked what it sounded like before I went looking for one - d'oh!).

The odd thing was though, that it sounded like it was coming from the weeds right in front of us, just yards away in the field, which didn't make sense as we'd be able to see a bird the size of a bustard if it was that close. We puzzled over this for ages, the bird seemingly transporting self round the field invisibly as we watched on like fools. It wasn't constantly calling but did so in bursts so we tried to work it out more scientifically, triangulating where we thought we heard it from, from two different spots along the road. We worked out it was further back than we initially thought but we still couldn't see it, even after a couple of blasts of Little bustard call from my phone, which it seemed to answer.

Ian popped back to the car and I scanned again and suddenly there it was - a small black and white patch in amongst the grass! Only the neck pattern stood out against the vegetation and it was even further back than we thought it would be. Ian scurried back with a scope and we were able to watch it - or its top half - as it puffed up its neck, bobbed its head and let out its strange 'fart' call time after time. Although it was a full field away, we had very decent views through the 'scope and couldn't believe we'd found such a notoriously tricky local species so quickly.

 Little Bustard - near Benelup

Little Bustard - near Benelup

  Little Bustard - near Benelup

Little Bustard - near Benelup

  Little Bustard - near Benelup

Little Bustard - near Benelup

There wasn't a great deal else in the immediate area apart from a Nightingale singing from the scrub and a couple of Red-rumped Swallows zipping by, so we headed off towards the coast for the afternoon. 


If you are interested in the birds of the area and would like to join a guided tour, why not check out local experts Niki and Simon at their website here:  https://ingloriousbustards.com/