Friday 6th April 2018

BUBO in ANDALUCIA - part 8

Our last day in Spain, and so our last chance to visit the good birding site that was literally just round the corner from our apartment. Los Lances beach is a large area of sand which gets covered in windsurfers and paragliders during the daytime and so it's important to get there early before the roosting birds have been frightened away. We got up nice and early and took the boardwalk from the western edge of town across the flat dunes in the cloudy and breezy conditions. The flat grassy areas either side of the path before we reached the main beach area were very good for birds, the best being the ten or so Short-toed Larks which apparently breed commonly here. Other species which were along here were a couple of Wheatears, a White Wagtail, a Meadow Pipit and many Crested Larks.

 Los Lances Beach

Los Lances Beach

Before we reached the end of the boardwalk, Ian picked up a couple of Audouin's Gulls fly south down the beach, a species we'd hoped to see here. We thought that we might see a few more when we got to the hide overlooking the inlet but unfortunately everything was very distant from here, more distant than we thought. We did see a few more Audouin's sat up on the sand over the far side but it was difficult to get any detail on them. There was a decent flock of gulls on the water including some Mediterranean Gulls with them. A good selection of waders was present here including Sanderlings, Kentish Plovers and the first Grey Plovers of the trip. We didn't stay too long here and we had a Nightingale singing in a garden on the edge of town as we made our way back to the apartment.

 Los Lances Beach

Los Lances Beach

We weren't too sure about what to plan for birding today, but I knew that I definitely wanted to visit Gibraltar since I was so close, so we had to head East. Looking on eBird, we noted a cluster of Rock Sparrow sightings, including recent ones, in a hillside town called Casares, which wasn't too far north of Gibraltar. Since this was the most likely new tick for me we thought it was worth the drive there and it would hopefully take us away from the murky weather coming in off the Atlantic.

Turning off the motorway we passed some low-flying Griffon Vultures and we had a Peregrine go over, and then a Woodchat Shrike along the side road. We didn't know what Casares was like at all, but as we turned the corner and saw the town we were met with a pretty impressive sight. A tangle of red-roofed, whitewashed houses clinging to the edge of a steep saddle between two hills.

 Casares

Casares

We followed the sat-navs directions towards where most of the red spots were on the map and the computer took us right through the middle of town, through tiny cobbled streets barely wide enough for our vehicle. We eventually made it through to the other side and we parked up and wandered down a track with suitable rocky habitat. Unfortunately, after a while of searching here there was no sign of any Rock Sparrows. It was a nice area though, with Blue Rock Thrush sighted as well as Serin, Crag Martins, a close Griffon Vulture every now and then, plus Ian saw a Cirl Bunting.

 Griffon Vulture, Casares

Griffon Vulture, Casares

We thought the Rock Sparrows may be up at the Castillo, the very highest point of the town, so we walked through the narrow, labyrinthine streets of this lovely little place. It can be a shame when on a pure birding trip that you spend so much time racing between different birding sites and focussing on seeing lots of different species, that you sometimes don't really take in the other aspects of a country or region. You get to see plenty of the spectacular countryside but built up areas or touristy spots, rarely get a look in as they are usually overrun with persons. So, I really enjoyed our wander round Casares even though it wasn't really birding and we dipped big style. Looking out over the town, the busy square at lunchtime, the randomly placed whitewashed houses almost stuck to the rock, the ruins of the Castillo and especially the town's cemetery. This was right on the edge of the cliffs - hence why we wandered in there whilst searching for birds - and was densely-packed with white-painted tombs, stacked on top of each other along either side of narrow paths. As it was just after Easter time, each one was still resplendent with brightly-coloured flowers. I have rarely seen such a beautiful place. However, as nice as it was we struggled to find many birds. We did think that the two Kestrels that regularly appeared circling over the town we Lesser Kestrels.   

 Casares town square

Casares town square

 Casares

Casares

 Castillo de Casares

Castillo de Casares

 Casares Cemetery

Casares Cemetery

 Casares Cemetery

Casares Cemetery

 Casares Cemetery

Casares Cemetery

After our fruitless search for the Rock Sparrows - quickly becoming my nemesis bird - we returned to the west side of town and pulled into a parking area which had a lookout and also looked good for 'craggy' species. This was an excellent raptor viewpoint and the local population of Griffon Vultures often soared right past us at eye level. We quickly noticed some migration going on and we saw about 10 Booted Eagles, 3 Short-toed Eagles, a Marsh Harrier, 3 White Storks and quite a few Black Kites, all passing the hillside in a northerly direction. Bee-eaters were also moving through and we must have had at least 200 birds during the next hour or so.

Whilst here, the exertions of the previous few days suddenly hit us. When we were young, full days of constant, dawn 'til dusk birding didn't bother us at all. But clearly we're getting a little a bit older and we hit the wall, especially Ian who was doing all the driving. So he went for a kip in the car whilst I sat on the grass overlooking the valley and continued to watch for raptors. It must have gone round on the local Griffon grapevine that there was a carcase in the vicinity because suddenly there were vultures all around me. There must have been at least 40 birds drop down low into the valley below me giving excellent views.  

 Griffon Vulture, Casares

Griffon Vulture, Casares

 Griffon Vulture, Casares

Griffon Vulture, Casares

 Griffon Vulture, Casares

Griffon Vulture, Casares

There were a few other birds around this watchpoint with Sardinian Warbler and a female Cirl Bunting perched in the gorse below. Scanning the crags for birds revealed a Blue Rock Thrush, as usual, right at the top of the cliff, and a couple of Choughs sailed by. After we'd had a rest, we set off south again and headed for Gibraltar.

 Sardinian Warbler, Casares

Sardinian Warbler, Casares

It was nice and straightforward getting into Gibraltar with no delays at all. So we passed the checkpoints, drove across the airport runway and into the busy town. It was now the middle of the afternoon and there were lots of people around the streets. We attempted to navigate around but it was very difficult trying to find where the bird guide book suggested to go, but we ended up finding a narrow road leading higher up the rock. We arrived at where we thought we were going to park as there were lots of other cars there, but we were met by a very grumpy woman who basically told us to sod off as we were not supposed to be there! We tried explaining that we'd just driven up the road and we wanted to know where to park, and she just got very stressy with us and told us to drive right back down the bottom again and not return. Very helpful Gibraltar, well done.

But we had little choice about it and drove down to the bottom again. As we skirted the southern tip of Gibraltar, we looked up and saw two or three Barbary Macaques trotting along the wall high above us - at least we'd seen the monkeys. We found a large car park by the southern lighthouse and got out. We looked up and wondered how we were going to get up there to look for Barbary Partridges which would be a new species for me. We knew we could take the cablecar to the very top but the guide suggested that the partridges were mainly further down the slopes.

 The southern tip of Gibraltar

The southern tip of Gibraltar

We read the guide again and there was a path marked on the map where it said you could walk up to where the partridges like to hang out. So we headed round the corner and walked along the main road towards the chapel where the path headed inland. As we passed a flowerbed outside some houses, a superb Swallowtail was feeding on nectar right in front of us!

 Swallowtail, Gibraltar

Swallowtail, Gibraltar

Buoyed by this cracker of a butterfly, and also by the small groups of Black Kites that were appearing in the sky above us, we pushed on to the track by the chapel, only to be shocked to see a locked gate in front of us! And as if to rub a pound of salt into our wounds, there was a painting of a Barbary Partridge on the gate!! They had obviously shut off this area to give the partridges some protection - it's almost as if they didn't care about my list. We had little choice but to head back to the car for a rethink.

As we made our way back past the Mosque, I stopped briefly to take a look at it and also gaze back at the rocks above, when I suddenly saw three tiny dots whizz across a gap in between the crumbling walls against the skyline. It took me a second or two but then I realised what they reminded me of. Their very direct flight and almost spherical shape with no wings visible recalled a typical view of Red-legged Partridges skipping over a hedge or something. However, as the view was distant, lasted a fraction of a second and without bins, I couldn't even be slightly sure of what I saw - perhaps some doves or pigeons zipped by. In any case, it seemed unlikely that I'd ever see them again as they disappeared behind the walls into the out-of-sight scrubby area. I gave it a minute or so and was going to head off again when suddenly, out of nowhere, a BARBARY PARTRIDGE popped up and just stood there, bold as you like, on top of the wall!

I shouted Ian back and we stood there gobsmacked that we'd been so lucky. The species is meant to be skulking and difficult to find on the scrubby Gibraltarian slopes and we see one from the main road, stood up on a wall almost waving at us! Barbary Partridge is not thought to be originally native to Gibraltar but has been there for a very long time, at its only station in mainland Europe. We could not believe how jammy we had been. Perhaps, as we were standing in the shadow of the Mosque we had some kind of divine help.

 Barbary Partridge, Gibraltar

Barbary Partridge, Gibraltar

 Barbary Partridge, Gibraltar

Barbary Partridge, Gibraltar

 Barbary Partridge, Gibraltar - showing the white head stripe

Barbary Partridge, Gibraltar - showing the white head stripe

 Gibraltar Mosque

Gibraltar Mosque

I didn't really want to leave Gibraltar without climbing up the Rock as I might never return here, so we decided to take the cable car. I am not very good with heights and so I was a little concerned, but I needn't have been because it was a smooth and spectacular.

 Gibraltar cablecar

Gibraltar cablecar

We had an enjoyable time up at the top of the rock and I was very impressed by the macaques or monkeys, loafing around like little, hairy humans. Although, like the partridges, these are probably not native, they have been on the Rock for hundreds of years and are actually the first primates that I have seen out in the wild. They were very photogenic, I loved their facial expressions. The one which ran into the café and nicked some leftovers was literally a cheeky monkey! We didn't see a great deal of other things up at the top but a Spanish Festoon gave us a merry chase, a new species of butterfly for us. We didn't see any land migrants but a couple of Booted Eagles were seen as well as the kites, and two Sparrowhawks came by. I managed to drag myself to the edge to look down the cliff on the eastern face of the rock where a Yellow-legged Gull colony was situated. We didn't stay too long and we came down the cable car again and drove out of the territory back to Tarifa for the last time.

 View from the top of the Rock of Gibraltar

View from the top of the Rock of Gibraltar

 Barbary Macaques, Gibraltar

Barbary Macaques, Gibraltar

  Barbary Macaques and a large ape, Gibraltar

Barbary Macaques and a large ape, Gibraltar

  Barbary Macaque, Gibraltar

Barbary Macaque, Gibraltar

  Barbary Macaque, Gibraltar

Barbary Macaque, Gibraltar

  Barbary Macaque, Gibraltar

Barbary Macaque, Gibraltar

  Barbary Macaque, Gibraltar

Barbary Macaque, Gibraltar

 Copris hispanus (or similar species), Tarifa, attracted to the streetlights.

Copris hispanus (or similar species), Tarifa, attracted to the streetlights.


The next day was my flight home and so we had to get up early and drive to Malaga. The journey went smoothly and as we approached Malaga Airport we started seeing some MONK PARAKEETS from the car flying alongside the motorway. Although not exactly exciting, these feral birds are now common in various places in Spain and were officially my final tick of the trip. We knew there were Monk Parakeets in Malaga but we hadn't planned to search for them at all. Ian dropped me off at the airport - he was staying another week with his family - and my flights again went smoothly and I arrived back in Guernsey in the evening.

So another BUBO trip had come to an end and we were pleased with what we had seen in the four and a half days we had in Andalucia. We totalled up and reckoned we saw 152 species. Personally, I had 7 new birds to add to my life list. Two of these were proper native species - Black Wheatear and Thekla Lark - one was an almost-native species - Barbary Partridge - two were rarities - Lesser Flamingo and Common Bulbul - and two were feral exotics - Common Waxbill and Monk Parakeet. So quite a mixed bag. But it was more the excellent views of rare species or ones I hadn't seen for many years, as well as the fabulous migration spectacles, which were the most memorable highlights of the trip.

 BUBO in ANDALUCIA

BUBO in ANDALUCIA


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/ 

Thursday 5th April 2018 (b)

BUBO in ANDALUCIA - part 7

After a full morning's birding at Bonanza Saltpans we had hardly scratched the surface of the Algaida Wetlands and there were plenty of other sites to visit in this area. We drove around the eastern side of the saltpans to an almost square pond called Laguna de Terelo. This was an old, flooded sand-pit and was surrounded by a wire fence that we had to view through. There was an island in the middle which contained a mixed heronry. We could see Little and Cattle Egrets breeding there, as well as Spoonbills and Glossy Ibises and also our first Night Herons of the trip.

 Heronry at Laguna de Terelo

Heronry at Laguna de Terelo

Since the water here was much deeper than the shallows of the surrounding marismas, the site attracted many diving ducks, Ian counted at least 63 White-headed Ducks and there were probably similar numbers of Pochard and Red-crested Pochard. There were also quite a few Coots swimming around the edges of the lake and we scanned them carefully searching for Crested Coots but none were visible. Viewing here was difficult so we didn't stay too long but I managed to snap a Green-striped White by the roadside. (Well done to Ian here for making a group of ten or so Spanish workmen chortle, by almost jumping in the wrong side of the car to drive off!)

  Red-crested Pochards, Common Pochards, White-headed Ducks & Common Sandpiper - Laguna de Terelo

Red-crested Pochards, Common Pochards, White-headed Ducks & Common Sandpiper - Laguna de Terelo

  Green-striped White - Laguna de Terelo

Green-striped White - Laguna de Terelo

We didn't stay too long at the lagoon, mainly due to the poor viewing, and we drove off northwards on a dirt track through the Algaida Pinewoods. The sun was really bright now as it was the middle of the day but luckily it wasn't too hot because of a cooling breeze. These lowland pinewoods were a new habitat for us but we didn't really look around, apart from a brief pee-stop when we finally saw our first Blue Tit of the trip. It looked like it might have had some more birds in there but apart from quite a few Black Kites resting in the pine-tops and a few Booted Eagles overhead we didn't see anything else.

 Common Stick Grasshopper (Pyrgomorpha conica) - Algaida Pinewoods

Common Stick Grasshopper (Pyrgomorpha conica) - Algaida Pinewoods

The pinewoods eventually opened out to a vast area of marismas in front of us which we think are known as the Trebujena Marismas. We had to drive North along the side of a canal first of all before crossing over a bridge and swinging East alongside the banks of the Guadalquivir. Our main quarry here was Marbled Teal which may be occasionally found on a few of the pools which lie along the track. There wasn't much open water however as it was almost all heavy vegetated marsimas. The largest lagoon was pretty good for waders and we had Greenshanks and Green and Common Sandpipers, as well as the larger, long-legged birds. The few ducks we did see here were Red-crested Pochards and a couple of Gadwall. A surprise was a migrant Subalpine Warbler flicking around a trackside bush.

After about a three mile drive along the track we couldn't find any Marbled Teal on the suggested lagoons perhaps because a geezer was busy sorting out his cows right next to the main spot. We parked up alongside what looked like some rectangular fish ponds and stretched our legs. We thought there may be a chance of finding one on these ponds but there was just a few feral Greylags honking away. The ponds were quite overgrown in places and I came across a Squacco Heron lurking in one of the corners. The best birds here were a couple of Collared Pratincoles which circled overhead and, unlike any we had seen previously, decided to land on the dirt bank between ponds. It was nice seeing them on the deck despite the heat haze.

 Trebujena Marismas with the Guadalquivir River on the right

Trebujena Marismas with the Guadalquivir River on the right

 Collared Pratincoles - Trebujena Marismas

Collared Pratincoles - Trebujena Marismas

  Collared Pratincoles - Trebujena Marismas

Collared Pratincoles - Trebujena Marismas

We started to retrace our steps, back down the track and considered where to go next, our stomachs reminding us with urgency that a shop might be in order after the forgotten-lunch fiasco. As we drove back we re-checked the same lagoons as we checked on our way in and suddenly, pulling victory from the jaws of defeat, Ian only picked out a corker of a Marbled Teal! It was so great to see this small, aesthetically-pleasing duck, after presuming we'd missed it. One of Europe's rarest wildfowl, there must be barely 100 pairs left. I did already have Marbled Teal on my list from a brief visit to the Coto Donana with my Spanish friends 25 years ago. However, I have always been a little suspicious of this record since it was very close to the visitor centre on a small pool, and I thought there was a chance that that bird was actually part of a re-introduction project or similar. So this bird felt more or less like a proper tick - fantastic!

  Marbled Teal - Trebujena Marismas

Marbled Teal - Trebujena Marismas

Our first Reed Warbler was singing from the reed-edged lake of the lagoon and a Swallowtail butterfly swooped past us. Back down the side of the canal, close to the pinewoods, the farm on the edge of the marismas had a few birds around it. As well as a Woodchat or two, some Spanish Wagtails, and a Cuckoo perched up in a small tree, there was a flock of sparrows buzzing around the grassy area. As well as the common House Sparrows, we picked out about ten or so Tree Sparrows and a single male Spanish - a three sparrow flock! Across the canal, we saw a couple of Gull-billed Terns patrolling the marismas before we drove back through the pines and out of the superb Algaida area which we had enjoyed immensely.

Despite our now critical levels of hunger, we decided to tough it out and quickly check a couple of small lagoons along the road called Camino Colorado, just outside Bonanza village. This was mainly because we had researched on eBird and there had been a few sightings of Crested Coot here a short while ago. We thought it was worth a shot. They just looked like a couple of piddly little ponds squeezed in between farmyards and packing sheds, and indeed they were, but we didn't expect them to be so great! (Not great for Crested Coots, I might add - I checked and triple checked every Coot there but none of them had the important red knobs.) The best thing about these pools were the superb White-headed Ducks which were pretty common here - Ian counted at least 30 whilst I was Coot-ing - and also very confiding. The birds were in full courtship mode and seemed to be more intent on pairing up than worrying about birders gawping at them from just metres away. It was great watching the males displaying and chasing each other off, definitely one of the highlights of the whole trip. 

 White-headed Duck - Camino Colorado Lagoons

White-headed Duck - Camino Colorado Lagoons

  White-headed Duck - Camino Colorado Lagoons

White-headed Duck - Camino Colorado Lagoons

  White-headed Duck - Camino Colorado Lagoons

White-headed Duck - Camino Colorado Lagoons

  White-headed Duck - Camino Colorado Lagoons

White-headed Duck - Camino Colorado Lagoons

  White-headed Duck - Camino Colorado Lagoons

White-headed Duck - Camino Colorado Lagoons

  White-headed Duck - Camino Colorado Lagoons

White-headed Duck - Camino Colorado Lagoons

  White-headed Duck - Camino Colorado Lagoons

White-headed Duck - Camino Colorado Lagoons

  White-headed Duck - Camino Colorado Lagoons

White-headed Duck - Camino Colorado Lagoons

As well as the White-headed Ducks there were plenty of other birds at the Camino Colorado lagoons. Pochards, Red-crested Pochards and a few Little Grebes swam around the open water, and a few Common Sandpipers bobbed around the edges. Two different Squacco Herons were perched up on vegetation at the far side of the pool where a few Terrapins loafed on logs. A great, and easy, spot to stop although you do have to stand on the actual road to view and Spanish drivers are not the most courteous. By now our stomachs were literally caving in on themselves and so we drove off south and into the large town of Sanlucar de Barrameda and piled into the first supermarket we came to. I remember stuffing cheese slices into bread rolls and stuffing those into my gob whilst sat in the car in the underground car park staring at a concrete wall - classy. 

We drove on down the coast to the fishing town of Chipiona where we hoped to find the Little Swifts, another very rare breeding bird in Europe, only nesting in a few colonies in southernmost Spain. We knew that the birds were right down at the harbour so the location was easy to find. We didn't know exactly where to look so we got out and wandered around for a bit and I took a snap of tight flock of about 200 Turnstones roosting on one of the marina jetties. 

 Turnstones - Chipiona Harbour

Turnstones - Chipiona Harbour

I had taken one or two photos of the flock when Ian called me over as he had found where the swifts were nesting and I dashed off to join him. This meant that I didn't even look at the Turnstones through my bins, which turned out to be a schoolboy error. When we arrived back at the apartment in the evening, I was reviewing my photos on the camera and zoomed in on the flock on the jetty. And what was standing there, right at the front of the flock? Only a Purple Sandpiper! Quite a decent bird this far south apparently.

  Purple Sandpiper & Turnstones - Chipiona Harbour

Purple Sandpiper & Turnstones - Chipiona Harbour

The swift colony was in the roof spaces of a harbourside building. There were obvious nests in the spaces between the rafters and the corrugated ceilings of the overhangs which looked perfect for swifts and martins. There were also a few nestboxes up there, and there were lots of strands of fishing rope hanging down which the swifts were using as nesting material, which unfortunately seemed to have tangled some of the birds as we saw a few dead ones. The first swifts we saw arriving at the nests were, we presumed, Pallid Swifts and there were also House Martins nesting there too.

 Location of Chipiona Harbour swift colony

Location of Chipiona Harbour swift colony

 Little and Pallid Swift and House Martin nesting colony  - Chipiona Harbour

Little and Pallid Swift and House Martin nesting colony - Chipiona Harbour

It didn't take very long for the Little Swifts to arrive and it was very exciting watching them whizz round us and up into their nests, screaming as they went. You could just stand next to the colony and watch them zoom in above you. Of course, with the speeds that they moved at and their sudden, acrobatic changes in direction, it was difficult to get sharp shots but we managed to take quite a few decent pictures. It was difficult to estimate how many we saw but we thought at least ten. It may have been more if every bird that arrived back in the vicinity was different. As swifts are my favourite bird family, and with memories of the Guernsey Little Swift a few years ago, I enjoyed these birds immensely.

  Little Swifts - Chipiona Harbour

Little Swifts - Chipiona Harbour

  Little Swifts - Chipiona Harbour

Little Swifts - Chipiona Harbour

  Little Swifts - Chipiona Harbour

Little Swifts - Chipiona Harbour

  Little Swifts - Chipiona Harbour

Little Swifts - Chipiona Harbour

  Little Swifts - Chipiona Harbour

Little Swifts - Chipiona Harbour

  Little Swift carrying nesting material - Chipiona Harbour

Little Swift carrying nesting material - Chipiona Harbour

 House Martin entering colony - Chipiona Harbour

House Martin entering colony - Chipiona Harbour

And what better way to celebrate such a fantastic rarity than to see a pony with a hat on!

 Pony with a hat on - Chipiona Harbour

Pony with a hat on - Chipiona Harbour

We had a quick look over the wall to the beach and sea but there were not many birds there, apart from a migrant Willow Warbler feeding in a palm tree. It was now evening so we set off on the long drive back towards Tarifa. As we passed the marismas at Cadiz we saw a single Great White Egret feeding in a pool by the motorway junction, our only one of the whole trip. Later on, further down the motorway, as we were travelling through some rolling green countryside, we noticed a smallish greyish bird of prey fly across the road, way in front of us, then by the time we reached it was going away and to the north. The most obvious species was Black-winged Kite and we thought it stood such a good chance that we turned around at the next junction and drove back again to try and find a side road to re-find it. But we were not that lucky and it was long gone. 

We passed near the Bald Ibis colony at Vejer and saw a single ibis float down the valley towards the nest sites. Again, we had a brief stop at La Janda for a quick scan or two and saw 4 Marsh and a ringtail Montagu's Harrier hunting the grassy fields, plus 4 Green Sandpipers. But as we'd been there for the last two evenings running we didn't stay long. After returning to the apartment we headed off into town for an excellent meal in a lovely little vegetarian restaurant and reflected on a wonderful day full of pretty rare birds. 


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/