The saladares del Guadalentín is an area of agricultural land to the east of the A7 motorway, between Alhama de Murcia and Totana. The Guadalentín river runs north to south through the area in a river valley bordered by reedbeds.
I normally pay a visit to this area towards the end of February, to see any remaining winter birds, and in the hope of seeing my first summer migrants.
Everything started out well – I managed to get out of the house and en route by 7am, in order to pick up Conry (Conrado Requeño Aznar) from Cartagena at 7-30. However at 7-20 I was waiting for a pick-up truck at the side of the motorway, due to a puncture, and so it was not until 9 that I got to Conry’s house, my wallet sizably lighter!
The only good this about this was that on arriving at Conry’s house, there was a Great Spotted Cuckoo flying around calling. A good omen?
We got to the saladares at about 10 a.m., and spent the next few hours driving around the tracks. The first decent sighting was of a group of 74 Reed Buntings feeding in a ploughed field, together with Corn Buntings and our first Tree Sparrow of the day. There were also numerous Chaffinches, Greenfinches, Linnets and a few Serins, and following behind a tractor that was ploughing, a group of at least 150 White Wagtails. We caught a glimpse of another Great Spotted Cuckoo as it flew parallel to us on the other side of a hedgerow of trees. In some of the farm reservoirs that we passed, we had Green and Common Sandpiper, Little Grebes, Coot and Moorhen, and on some of the ploughed fields, small groups of Meadow Pipits and Skylarks (and quite possibly Lesser Short Toed Larks, but as I find their call so similar to Skylark, we couldn’t be certain), and in trees around the fields, the occasional Southern Grey Shrike.
Along the top of the river valley we saw a few Magpies and many Jackdaws. I decided that as I was driving ‘the Tank’, we could cross down into the river valley and drive along the track alongside the river. Here we saw many small birds; Songthrushes, Blackcaps, Reed Buntings, Chiffchaffs and had 3 Penduline Tits, plus Marsh and ringtailed Hen Harrier. Also we heard at least 1 Cetti’s Warbler. Coming back out of the river valley we drove along the service road parallel to the Totana/Mazarron motorway, scanning fields as we went for Little Bustards and Black-bellied Sandgrouse, but without success.
We did however see a large raptor which on getting the ‘scope on it, turned out to be an immature Golden Eagle.
Immature Golden Eagle
We tried some more forays along the tracks, and finally found a group of 5 Calandra Larks in a field, which when they flew showed the characteristic black underwing.
It was by now early afternoon, and we considered giving up then, but decided to persevere and have a look on the west side of the river, especially as last year Conry had seen a small group of Lesser Kestrel prospecting an abandoned farmhouse there. So, driving around and Conry called for me to stop – at the back of a field to our left, a group of Little Bustard. As soon as we stopped the majority of them took to flight. 23 in all, plus 2 still sitting in the field, but as soon as we got out the cameras, they too took off. We drove of to where we thought they had landed, but no sign of them. However, in the middle of a ploughed field was a raptor with pale markings on its head. Our first thought was that it was a Marsh Harrier, but when we approached and it flew a few metres, we were amazed to see that in fact it was a falcon of some sort. As it appeared to be brown in colour (this turned out to be an effect of the light as it did in fact have grey on the upperparts) and was very large with a very slender looking moustache, we wondered if we’d come across a Saker. We watched it on the ground and in flight in various fields, but always with the bird between us and the sun. Eventually after driving across various fields, we managed to get it with the sun behind us. It looked enormous, and was attacking a Booted Eagle on the ground which later flew off. We later saw the falcon fly off with a Rock Dove/Domestic Pigeon, but I don’t think it caught it itself, rather robbed it from the Booted Eagle. At that time there was also a Common Buzzard in attendance, trying to see what all the fuss was about. We finally managed to get a few photos of the bird and decided to try to identify it later. (In the end, after showing the photos and discussing with various people, we came to the conclusion that it was a Peregrine Falcon, of the sub-species ‘calidus’, a rare large northern European visitor in the winter).
Peregrine Falcon ssp. ‘calidus’
Peregrine Falcon ssp. ‘calidus’ – note the pale face, eyestripe, small moustache, pale underparts
Peregrine Falcon ssp. ‘calidus’ – note the size (the prey is a Rock Dove/Domestic Pigeon)
We decided to call it a day at that.
Corn Bunting (Miliaria calandra)
Tree Sparrow (Passer montanus)
Chaffinch (Fringilla coelebs)
Greenfinch (Carduelis chloris)
Linnet (Carduelis cannabina)
Serin (Serinus serinus)
Great Spotted Cuckoo (Clamator glandarius)
Lapwing (Vanellus vanellus)
Green Sandpiper (Tringa ochropus)
Common Sandpiper (Actitis hypoleucos)
Little Grebe (Tachybaptus ruficollis)
Moorhen (Gallinula chloropus)
Coot (Fulica atra)
Penduline Tit (Remiz pendulinus)
Marsh Harrier (Circus aeruginosus)
Hen Harrier (Circus cyaneus)
Common Buzzard (Buteo buteo)
Golden Eagle (Aquila chrysaetos)
Magpie (Pica pica)
Jackdaw (Corvus monedula)
Little Bustard (Tetrax tetrax)
Peregrine Falcon (Falco peregrinus calidus)
Booted Eagle (Hieraaetus pennatus)
Skylark (Alauda arvensis)
Crested Lark (Galerida cristata)
Calandra Lark (Melanocorypha calandra)
Stonechat (Saxicola torquata)
Black Redstart (Phoenicurus ochruros)
Songthrush (Turdus philomelos)
Meadow Pipit (Anthus pratensis)
Southern Grey Shrike (Lanius meridionalis)
Blackcap (Sylvia atricapilla)
Cetti’s Warbler (Cettia cettia)
Kestrel (Falco tinnunculus)
Starling (Sturnus vulgaris)
Spotless Starling (Sturnus unicolor)
Common Teal (Anas crecca)
Cattle Egret (Bubulcus ibis)
White Wagtail (Motacilla alba alba)
Little Owl (Athene noctua)
Blackbird Turdus merula)
Dartford Warbler (Sylvia undata)
Sardinian Warbler (Sylvia melanocephala)
Great Tit (Parus major)
Robin (Erithacus rubecula)
House Sparrow (Passer domesticus)