Wednesday, 30 May 2012

Friday 25th - Sunday 27th May 2012 – A weekend in Nerpio (Albacete)



This weekend I went with other members of the Natural History group of the Popular University of Cartagena (Naturalistas Desahuciados) to the town of Nerpio, which is just over the Murcian border, in the province of Albacete.  This is a small mountain town located in the Sierra del Segura mountain range, which has for the past few years, been promoting itself as an ornithological mecca of unspoilt, high mountain habitats (the area in general is over 1,000 metres above sea level, with some peaks just short of 1,500 metres).  Here we would meet with local Albacete birders.  (For more details of the area, see www.alasparanerpio.blogspot.com.es.)

The main aim of the weekend was to take part in the ‘censo de aves nogales’, or Walnut Tree bird census.  Around here is one of the main walnut growing areas of Spain, and we were to count the birds that use this habitat type, of small fields with Walnut trees and bush cover at the edges of mountain streams.  Very different to what we’re used to around Cartagena.

We stayed the weekend in a local ‘albergue’ (youth hostel) just outside the main town, the ‘Cortijo Covaroja’. In total there were more than 30 of us, including the group from Albacete.

Our lodgings for the weekend, Cortijo Covaroca

Friday, 25th May 2012 – Cartagena to Nerpio
Weather: Sky 1/8 cloud,  temp. 28ºC.  12:30 – 20:00.  With Diego Zamora Urán, Isabel Campillo Inglés

We set out from Cartagena at 12:30, very warm and hardly a cloud in the sky.  As I was in the car of Diego Zamora and Isabel Campillo, I had the luxury of being able to birdwatch out of the car window all the way, although the only birds of note was a White Stork north of the RM15 motorway halfway between Alcantarilla and Mula, and a Griffon Vulture close to Archivel, just inside the Murcian border.  As we got higher, we did start to note Carrion Crows in fields at the side of the motorway.

Stopping for a late lunch in Nerpio itself, we then went to our lodgings.  These were all closed up, so Diego and I decided to have a walk to try to accustomize ourselves to local birds (and more importantly, their calls and songs) while we waited for it to open.

We took a leisurely walk along the side of a road for about an hour each way, reaching a small hamlet, checking all the birds we saw and heard en route.  Then back at the cortijo for supper and a short talk on the census method for tomorrow morning, and an overview of the birds we might see and hear.

Species seen/heard
Red-legged Partridge (Alectoris rufa)
Great Crested Grebe (Podiceps cristatus) – (Taibilla reservoir)
White Stork (Ciconia ciconia) – (en route)
Griffon Vulture (Gyps fulvus) – (en route)
Coot (Fulica atra) – (Taibilla reservoir)
Swift (Apus apus)
Bee-eater (Merops apiaster)
Great Spotted Woodpecker (Dendrocopos major)
Woodlark (Lullula arborea)
Swallow (Hirundo rustica)
Black Redstart (Phoenicurus ochrurus)
Mistle Thrush (Turdus viscivorus)
Black-eared Wheatear (Oenanthe hispanica)
Melodious Warbler (Hippolais polyglotta)
Spectacled Warbler (Sylvia conspicillata)
Dartford Warbler (Sylvia undata)
Spotted Flycatcher (Muscicapa striata)
Long-tailed Tit (Aegithalos caudatus)
Crested Tit (Parus cristatus)
Coal Tit (Parus ater)
Blue Tit (Parus caeruleus)
Great Tit (Parus major)
Nuthatch (Sitta europaea)
Chough (Pyrrhocorax pyrrhocorax)
Spotless Starling (Sturnus unicolor)
House Sparrow (Passer domesticus)
Rock Sparrow (Petronia petronia)
Chaffinch (Fringilla coelebs)
Serin (Serinus serinus)
Greenfinch (Carduelis chloris)
Goldfinch (Carduelis carduelis)
Corn Bunting (Miliaria calandra)

Saturday, 26th May 2012 – Nerpio, ‘censo de aves nogales’
Weather: Sky 2/8 cloud,  temp. 12 - 22ºC.  07:30 – 10:30.  With Diego Zamora Urán, Antonio Fernández-Caro Gómez

The main reason for the visit.  After a sleepless night (not easy to sleep in a room with 20 other people in bunk beds without someone snoring), I was up at 5-30am, and went outside to hear, apart from Woodlarks, single Tawny and Scops Owls.

We started the census at 7:30am.  Each group of birders had a number of stations to check.  The method was to spend 5 minutes at each station, noting all birds seen and heard, in three distinct groups - within 25 metres, outside 25 metres and distant birds.

Our group, made up of Diego, Antonio and myself, had 5 stations to check, and were lucky in that three of them could be checked from the roadside.  Although we only had to annotate birds during a 5 minute period, we actually spent nearer 20 minutes at each site – after all, we don’t get too much chance to see such birds as Nuthatch, Great Spotted Woodpeckers, Short-toed Treecreepers or even Coal Tits locally so we decided we would make the most of it.  A surprise bird during our census was a female Pied Flycatcher – a late migrant or maybe a breeder (in which case it would be the first recorded breeding).

A typical (and not uncommon) bird of the area, Nuthatch

A record shot of another typical, fairly common bird, Great Spotted Woodpecker

It wasn't all birds - a Red Squirrel keeping an eye on us

 As we were finishing our cencus, this Common Buzzard flew overhead
 
At the end of the census, many of us made our way up to the holiday home of one of the participants, in a small group of houses known as Los Poyos.  Here we saw a Short-toed Eagle overhead, and saw many Rock Sparrows, Rock Buntings, Black Redstarts plus a very pale Northern Wheatear (and enjoyed a very welcome beer or two).

 A Rock Sparrow, of which there were quite a few

Male Northern Wheatear which was nesting somewhere nearby
 
In the afternoon, we went to various high viewing points in search of the elusive Lammergeier which have recently been re-introduced nearby and are occasionally seen.  We had no luck with this, but en route did see another local rarity, Egyptian Vulture, which is now becoming very scarce in the south of the Spanish peninsula.

Becoming rare now, we were lucky to trip over this Egyptial Vulture
 
In these high barren areas, we had some more local specialties, such as Tawny Pipits singing, a large flock of around 40 Chough, plus Carrion Crows, Magpies, Booted Eagles, Peregrine and Griffon Vultures.
 And the common vulture around here, Griffon Vulture

 Part of the group searching for Lammergeier

Species seen/heard
Red-legged Partridge (Alectoris rufa)
Griffon Vulture (Gyps fulvus)
Egyptian Vulture (Gypaetus barbatus)
Short-toed Eagle (Circaetus gallicus)
Sparrowhawk (Accipiter nisus)
Buzzard (Buteo buteo)
Booted Eagle (Hieraaetus pennatus)
Peregrine (Falco peregrinus)
Woodpigeon (Columba palumbus)
Collared Dove (Streptopelia decaocto)
Cuckoo (Cuculus canorus)
Scops Owl (Otus scops)
Tawny Owl (Strix aluco)
Swift (Apus apus)
Bee-eater (Merops apiaster)
Hoopoe (Upupa epops)
Wryneck (Jynx torquilla)
Great Spotted Woodpecker (Dendrocopos major)
Woodlark (Lullula arborea)
Crag Martin (Ptyonoprogne rupestris)
Swallow (Hirundo rustica)
House Martin (Delichon urbicum)
Tawny Pipit (Anthus campestris)
Grey Wagtail (Motacilla cinerea)
White Wagtail (Motacilla alba alba)
Wren (Troglodytes troglodytes)
Robin (Erithacus rubecula)
Nightingale (Luscinia megarhynchos)
Black Redstart (Phoenicurus ochrurus)
Stonechat (Saxicola torquatus)
Northern Wheatear (Oenanthe oenanthe)
Black-eared Wheatear (Oenanthe hispanica)
Blackbird (Turdus merula)
Mistle Thrush (Turdus viscivorus)
Cetti’s Warbler (Cettia cetti)
Melodious Warbler (Hippolais polyglotta)
Blackcap (Sylvia atricapilla)
Spectacled Warbler (Sylvia conspicillata)
Dartford Warbler (Sylvia undata)
Spotted Flycatcher (Muscicapa striata)
Pied Flycatcher (Ficedula hypoleuca)
Long-tailed Tit (Aegithalos caudatus)
Crested Tit (Parus cristatus)
Coal Tit (Parus ater)
Blue Tit (Parus caeruleus)
Great Tit (Parus major)
Nuthatch (Sitta europaea)
Short-toed Treecreeper (Certhia brachydactyla)
Golden Oriole (Oriolus oriolus)
Jay (Garrulus glandarius)
Magpie (Pica pica)
Chough (Pyrrhocorax pyrrhocorax)
Carrion Crow (Corvus corone)
Raven (Corvus corax)
Spotless Starling (Sturnus unicolor)
House Sparrow (Passer domesticus)
Rock Sparrow (Petronia petronia)
Chaffinch (Fringilla coelebs)
Serin (Serinus serinus)
Greenfinch (Carduelis chloris)
Goldfinch (Carduelis carduelis)
Linnet (Carduelis cannabina)
Crossbill (Loxia curvirostra)
Cirl Bunting (Emberiza cirlus)
Rock Bunting (Emberiza cia)
Corn Bunting (Miliaria calandra)

Sunday, 27th May 2012 – Mingarnao feeding station, Nerpio
Weather: Sky 2/8 cloud,  temp. 12 - 24ºC.  07:30 – 12:00

The morning was spent with a trip to the Mingarnao feeding station, where a couple of dead goats and sheep had been left, to try and attract vultures.  Although fairly quiet for much of the time with just a few Carrion Crows and Griffon Vultures, by the time it warmed up and there were thermals, we had up to 60 Griffon Vultures circling overhead.  Also seen was a dark phase Booted Eagle and a Common Buzzard.  Around the area of the hide was a male Subalpine Warbler pulling apart the silk nest of processionary caterpillars, presumably to use for its own nest, and a couple of male Black-eared Wheatears singing their hearts out.
Male Subalpine Warbler

And another Griffon Vulture seen flying to the feeding station
 
While waiting for the vultures to make an appearance, I took a walk around the area trying to photograph to identify butterflies, and think I saw the following:  Wall (Lasiommata megera); Large Wall Brown (Lasiommata maera); Western Marble White (Melanargia occitanica); Spanish Marbled White (Melanargia ines).  I took photos of these, and if any butterfly expert thinks they are mis-identified, please let me know.
Wall - Lasiommata megera

Large Wall Brown - Lasiommata maera

Western Marbled White - Melanargia occitanica

Spanish Marbled White - Melanargia ines

We then went into the town of Nerpio for some r&r and also to try to find a Dipper that lives there, but had no luck.  From there, back to the cortijo for lunch (where I found another butterfly I’d never seen before, a Knapweed Fritillary (Melitaea phoebe occitanica)), and then home to Cartagena having made a quick stop at the Taibilla reservoir en route.

Knapweed Fritillary - Melitaea phoebe occitanica
 
Species seen/heard
Mallard (Anas platyrhynchos)
Pochard (Aythya ferina)
Coot (Fulica atra)
Red-legged Partridge (Alectoris rufa)
Little Grebe (Tachybaptus ruficollis)
Griffon Vulture (Gyps fulvus)
Buzzard (Buteo buteo)
Booted Eagle (Hieraaetus pennatus)
Kestrel (Falco tinnunculus)
Woodpigeon (Columba palumbus)
Collared Dove (Streptopelia decaocto)
Cuckoo (Cuculus canorus)
Swift (Apus apus)
Alpine Swift (Apus melba)
Hoopoe (Upupa epops)
Great Spotted Woodpecker (Dendrocopos major)
Woodlark (Lullula arborea)
House Martin (Delichon urbicum)
Black Redstart (Phoenicurus ochrurus)
Black-eared Wheatear (Oenanthe hispanica)
Blackbird (Turdus merula)
Subalpine Warbler (Sylvia cantillans)
Melodious Warbler (Hippolais polyglotta)
Great Tit (Parus major)
Magpie (Pica pica)
Chough (Pyrrhocorax pyrrhocorax)
Carrion Crow (Corvus corone)
House Sparrow (Passer domesticus)
Chaffinch (Fringilla coelebs)
Serin (Serinus serinus)

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