BUBO in ANDALUCIA - part 3
Although it was still pleasantly sunny when we left Punta Carnero in the early afternoon, by the time we had climbed into the hills above Tarifa the rain started to become more persistent. We were not sure where would be a good place to go birding in this inclement weather but we carried on west, beyond Tarifa, to hopefully drive through the rain front and drier weather beyond.
We ended up driving for 50 km and headed to a place where we knew there would definitely birds - the famous BALD IBIS colony at Vejer de la Frontera. We found the spot very easily and luckily the rain had stopped. We parked up in a car park at the side of the road and straight away saw these crazy birds perched on their nest sites looking like outcasts from the Muppet Show.
Firstly, a bit of background info on these birds. Northern Bald Ibis is one of the rarest birds in the world and in the wild, it is now more or less restricted to Morocco where only about 250 birds exist. It is in serious danger of becoming extinct. Historically, it appears to have had a much wider distribution in southern Europe, North Africa and the Middle East, even breeding in the Alps and one would assume southern Spain (although this hasn't been proved). Due to the precarious nature of the population and the decent numbers of the bird in captivity, it was decided by Spanish naturalists that it would be a good idea to try and (re)introduce a population to southern Spain to widen its distribution. About 30 birds were released in 2003, and by 2008 a pair nested in the wild. In 2011 a few pairs started off the colony shown below and now there are 20+ pairs. Although the cliff-face is very ideal for this species as they like to nest in these tiny caves, the location is far from ideal being right next to quite a busy road! Whilst we were there lorries and cars raced past all the time, but at least you could view the colony really well from the other side of the road. Unfortunately, these birds are not currently "tickable" as, being quite a large, long-lived species, it may be quite a few years before they are 'self-sustaining'. Nevertheless, we enjoyed watching these fabulous birds and we counted at least 14 individuals.
Other birds in this area included a Nightingale singing from the scrub below our watchpoint, plus a few birds flying over the ridge across the river - 4 Griffons, 1 Short-toed Eagle, a Hobby and a Buzzard (which became our 14th species of raptor for the day). Also, after over 24 hours in Spain, we finally saw our first White Stork.
We headed south towards the Barbate Estuary where, disappointingly, it had gotten really dull and was starting to rain again. We found a few spots to stop the car and watch from the window over the saltmarsh and beaches. At the mouth of the river a small flock of terns were resting on the sandbank - 5 Sandwich, 8 Little and a Common Tern. In the channels and on the wet sand, we managed to pick out the odd wader. As well as a few Oystercatchers and Stilts, we also picked out a Greenshank, a Curlew and a few Kentish Plovers scurrying along.
Eventually we got fed up of sitting in the car and we got out for a little walk despite the light rain (no camera, and so no pictures, I'm afraid). Immediately we came across a small channel where we had singles of Ringed Plover, Dunlin and Common Sandpiper, and then flushed a small warbler from a tiny suaeda-like shrub on the mud. We kept flushing it between clumps but it was incredibly elusive and we were considering it might be a Spectacled. However, it finally revealed itself to be a migrant Subalpine Warbler - our second one of the day. We walked to the beach but there was no seabirds of note loafing there, but we did have great views of Crested Larks and Kentish Plovers in the dunes. We also found a Hoopoe perched up on a hand rail and we saw a flock of 8 Bee-eaters fly past. There seemed to be some migration happening, the rain bringing a few migrants down. Just as we were about to return, Ian spotted a distant Squacco Heron flying past in the gap between buildings. It then started raining again!
We carried on down the coast but the weather wasn't drying up at all. We had another flock of 5 Bee-eaters fly past the car near Zahara and then we turned back inland. Thankfully, as we reached the main road again the rain stopped and we decided to check out La Janda as we were nearby, and as it was late afternoon/evening we didn't really have time to visit anywhere else. La Janda was our planned destination first thing the next morning for a longer session, so this was going to be just a quick look. La Janda is an area of low, flat fields which used to be an extensive inland lagoon before it was drained, but it still gets very wet and attracts many birds. We stayed longer than we planned because the rain had clearly stalled many migrant birds on their journey so we had lots to see here.
The fence alongside the entrance track was an excellent perch and many passerines could be seen dotted along it. Corn Buntings were ubiquitous and there were lots of Stonechats also. We had a male Redstart flick from the wire and a couple of Woodchat Shrikes showed well (out of 5 we saw at La Janda). Looking ahead down the track a Red-legged Partridge ran across and a couple of Little Ringed Plovers ran around a large puddle.
We then started to notice small groups of Bee-eaters coming through, all low and heading NW up the wide valley, migrating north, taking advantage of the break in the weather. Some of them were coming very close and zipping over our heads but were a nightmare to try and photograph. You could hear them coming, the calls getting closer and closer, then all of a sudden they were on top of you and were already past! They were pretty incredible and we estimated at least 200 birds flew by during the evening.
We parked up on the raised bank above the main canal where we set up our 'scopes so we could scan the whole area. From here you could see what a terrific site this was with birds all around - albeit somewhat distant mostly. There were many more finches here with Goldfinches, Greenfinches and Linnets buzzing around plus at least one Serin. Yellow Wagtails fed in the muddy fields and Fan-tailed Warblers and a couple of Willow Warblers hunted for insects in the canal-side bushes. Many Cattle Egrets were dotted around and a group of about 100 White Storks appeared in the sky, circled a while before gliding off over our heads.
One of the main attractions of this area is the concentration of wintering raptors that visit here to hunt. Although it was not really winter any more we thought there might be some still around, especially with the poor weather here recently. In the distance we picked out 2 Griffon Vultures and 3 Short-toed Eagles circling, and at least three Marsh Harriers quartered the fields. The best bird was a ringtail Montagu's Harrier hunting and, almost like tiny falcons, a few Collared Pratincoles in the distance flying about. This was a great place to finish the days birding and we looked forward to returning in the morning to explore the area further.
In the evening, a few Pallid Swifts (we presumed) screamed around the apartment building and we headed into town to dine at a vegetarian restaurant - nice food but on the slow side for service, I thought Ian was about to eat a serviette he was that hungry. On the way back, I nipped behind a small hut for a pee, only to startle a Gecko which ran into a hot air vent. It had been a difficult afternoon's birding really, trying to avoid the heavy downpours, but we ended up with a decent list of species.
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/