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