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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!).
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.
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/