Monday, 24 September 2012

Mar Menor Update, 20th - 23rd September

Another summary, this time covering from Thursday 20th September to Sunday 23rd September.  There’s not an awful lot of movement at the moment, but I have had some interesting sightings.

Thursday, 20th September 2012 - Marchamalo salinas & Cabo de Palos lighthouse garden
Today I went to the Salinas first thing.  The water is once again being pumped into the Salinas and the water level is starting to rise noticeably – I presume due to the fact that it isn’t now so hot during the day, and so there is much less evaporation.

There were more waders today, with 25 Avocets, 9 Curlew Sandpipers, 21 Dunlin, 16 Little Stints, 4 Ringed and 3 Kentish Plovers, 17 Black-winged Stilts, 1 Common Sandpiper, 3 Redshank, 5 Spotted Redshanks and 5 Greenshanks.

A few of the newly arrived Avocets
 Curlew Sandpipers and Dunlin

The Cabo de Palos lighthouse gardens were pretty quiet – and dry.  Birds around were a single Crested Lark, a Southern Grey Shrike a male Kestrel and a couple of Northern Wheatears.  On wires outside the gardens area were a good number of Red-rumped Swallows (I estimated about 30), and in the surrounding area I found a couple of Subalpine Warblers and a single Whinchat.

Friday, 21st September 2012 - Marchamalo salinas and Cabo de Palos lighthouse gardens
Today I had another morning roadside look at the Marchamalo salinas before going to work.  Wader numbers were definitely down on yesterday, but I don’t know if this is due to there being more attractive feeding areas in some of the more interior lagoons now that the water level is rising.  At my roadside spot, there were very few.  What WAS noticeable was that a largish number of Greater Flamingos had arrived.  I counted 87 in total, which included 16 juveniles.  Of these 16, 6 were ringed, and from the ring-numbers I guess that they were all ringed in the same place – when I get the details back I can confirm that.  On my way out from the Salinas, I noticed a small raptor sitting on the muddy field opposite, so I took the car to where I could get a better view.  It sat in the field for about 5 minutes, and then took off passing over my car – a fine Merlin.  And a couple of minutes later, a Sparrowhawk flew past in the opposite direction.
 A couple of the few waders around - Dunlin

and a juvenile Curlew Sandpiper
 Seen standing in a field opposite the salinas, a Merlin
 The same bird, in flight

In the early afternoon I had time for another quick wander around the Cabo de Palos lighthouse gardens but nothing new there apart from a single Cory’s Shearwater flying past on the Med.  One thing I did see which was quite comical, was a male blackbird in full head moult – the moulting feathers were all in pin, so the head appeared white – a punky Blackbird!

 The 'punky' Blackbird at the lighthouse gardens

One of the few small migrants around, a Northern Wheatear
Saturday, 22nd September 2012 - Marchamalo salinas,  Cartagena sierras and Arenal Los Nietos
Again, a morning visit to Marchamalo, but the Flamingos of yesterday had gone leaving a core of just 33 birds of which only 3 were juveniles.  Waders were again thin on the ground and the only birds of note were a group of 19 Slender-billed Gulls.

I had heard during the week of a sighting in some of the sierras of Cartagena, down towards Mazarron, of 3 Dotterel, so as it was still early I decided to go and investigate.  I started out in totally clear-sky sunny warm conditions, in La Manga but by the time I reached the base of the sierra, there was low cloud hiding the peaks of the hills.  As I was be walking approx. 10 km total (5 each way) I thought of this as a blessing as it would otherwise be too hot.  Well after the hike, I decided I definitely need to do more exercise – 10km is no problem if it’s around the flat Mar Menor, but having to go up 250 metres is another thing entirely.  I spent about 3 hours in total (1 ½ hours climbing, 1 hour looking for the birds and ½ hour coming back) – but had no luck with the Dotterel – in fact the only birds I saw were a Kestrel, a few Swallows, a flock of around 20 Bee-eaters lost in the fog which eventually burnt off,  a few Thekla Larks and Dartford Warblers, and I heard a Green Woodpecker in one of the valleys.

 Not too many birds seen in the sierras, this Dartford Warbler being one

In the late afternoon just before it got dark, I went down to the beach area to the west of Los Nietos.  I wanted to see how many ‘flava’ Wagtails were around as we intended to try ringing there the next evening.  In total I saw more than 500 (but more likely 6-700) – a good sign for tomorrow.  Also there was a single Marsh Harrier hunting over reeds in the distance.

Sunday, 23rd  September 2012 - Marchamalo salinas  Encañizadas La Manga
Another morning visit to Marchamalo, but with little change – water is still entering, and the muddy fringe at the side of the road where I normally see waders is now almost non-existent.  Waders seen were all distant, around the edges of other lagoons.  A single adult breeding plumage Grey Plover was new; Greater Flamingos settled around the 30 individuals mark, and I saw a couple of Spotted and 3 Common Redshank, and 3 Greenshank.  On the ‘motas’ (walls of the lagoons) were a total of 14 Grey Herons.

I carried on to the 'Encañizadas' at the end of La Manga (a bit of a mistake as there was a ‘triathlon’ in progress, so much of the end of the 'strip' was cordoned off).  When I eventually got there, there were signs of a bit of movement.  There were a few (9) Cormorants on the outer islets, a small group of 7 Mallard, which I haven’t seen there since the spring, 45 Grey Herons 50+ Little Egret and 3 Spoonbills (definitely new in – one had a white ‘colour’ ring, but it was too far off to be able to read), and there were a few Swallows flying over south with at least one Red-rumped in amongst them.

But the bird of the day was definitely an Osprey, which I watched for over an hour.  To start with it was just  flying around overhead, obviously peering down intently into the water looking for some breakfast (and at the same time moving all the birds around).  It had a couple of goes at dropping onto a fish without success, but on its third attempt it managed to catch quite a large one.  It eventually managed to lift the fish out of the water – to be instantly attended by two juvenile Yellow-legged Gulls after a free meal.  They harassed it for about 10 minutes, until eventually it dropped down onto a beach opposite me, but a long way off.  I expected it to then demolish the fish, but after a few minutes (possibly just waiting till the coast was clear) it flew up again with the fish and flew inland towards San Pedro and San Javier, and I lost it to view south of San Javier.

 The Osprey on one of its passes...

 ...stalling in midair prior to falling onto a fish...

 ...breakfast is caught, now to find somewhere to eat it...

...but the catch hadn't escaped the notice of some gulls
In the evening we had the ringing attempt I mentioned earlier, organized by Fran Garcia of ANSE.  Conditions were not perfect – the sky was clear and there was a bit of a breeze, but we got 3 lines of nets with a total of 8 nets, up by 6:30pm.  We did a single net round around 7pm but only managed a single ‘flava’ Wagtail.  We left the second and last net round until it was almost dark, watching the wagtails come swirling around in the meantime – we estimated more than a thousand.  And when we did the net-round at 8pm, we had more birds than bird-bags (and almost more than we had rings for).  We eventually emptied the 8 nets and the ringing finished at half past midnight, with a total of more than 200 wagtails caught (plus a Blackbird and Sardinian Warbler).  The majority of the wagtails were ‘Blue-headed’ (‘flava’) and ‘Iberian’ (‘iberiae’), but there were a couple that were thought to be ‘Yellow’ (‘flavissima’).  A long night!

Thursday, 20 September 2012

Mar Menor Update

I've not posted anything for a few days - this hasn't been because I haven't been out and about, but because I haven't had time in front of the computer.  Therefore this post is a summary of the last few days.

Thursday, 13th September 2012 - Marchamalo salinas & Encañizadas (La Manga)

In the afternoon I had a quick look from the roadside at the Marchamalo salinas.  Although in the afternoon the light is bad, I did manage to count a large group of adult Audouin's Gulls in one of the dry lagoons, 63 in total.  Apart from that, Greater Flamingo numbers had increased to 30; there was a single female or immature Shoveler in the first pool together with a Grey Plover and 3 Redshank, but otherwise things were pretty quiet.

I decided to continue down to the end of the 'La Manga strip' to the area directly opposite the salinas at San Pedro del Pinatar (the 'Encañizadas').  I had not been down here since before the summer (I never go in the summer because of the traffic), and I wanted to see if there were any Knot about - this being the only place in Murcia where they are seen with any regularity.

I arrived there about 5pm and spent an hour there.  I had no luck with the Knot, although there WAS a fair sized group of waders over on the San Pedro side, once again due to the heat haze and position of the sun I couldn't i.d. them, just see them when they got up and flew around.

Interesting birds seen there (mainly passerines) were 2 Northern Wheatears, Red-rumped Swallows, a single Stone Curlew hiding in a creek, a Kingfisher, 5 Willow Warblers, a male Common Redstart and a Subalpine Warbler.

Friday, 14th September 2012 - Marchamalo salinas, San Javier, San Pedro del Pinatar salinas

Today I had a morning roadside look before going to work at the Marchamalo salinas.  Now the light was much better, and there was a small group of waders feeding just in front of me.  Nothing too special, but it's nice just to see any waders there now that there's a bit of water in some of the lagoons.

Birds seen were 2 Redshank; 10 Dunlin; 3 Little Stint; 3 Kentish and 4 Ringed Plovers; 26 Black Winged Stilts (quite a high number - many of them were flying around in a group and I think they had just arrived or were intending to go off elsewhere); 2 Greenshank; 7 Grey Heron; 2 Little Egret; 28 Slender-billed Gulls; 46 Greater Flamingos (which included 3 juveniles, and I was able to read 2 rings).

 One of the Redshanks seen

 A general view over the salinas

 The 'mota' where the terns and gulls roost

 Part of the wader flock, a group of Dunlin...

 ... and a couple of Little Stint

In the afternoon I made my way to San Pedro via San Javier, but stopping off briefly at Lo Poyo on the Mar Menor (between Los Nietos and Los Urrutias) where I just had a light phase Booted Eagle.

In San Javier I stopped at the farm reservoirs near the airport to see what was and what wasn't still about.  Here too there were more Black Winged Stilts - I counted 17, and I also had a flock of Little Ringed Plovers (12 altogether).  There were still a good number of Black Terns, both adults (some very black) and juveniles
- I counted 26 in total, and around the resevoirs I saw a couple of Turtle Doves (the majority of these seem to have gone now).

A couple of photos taken of the Black Terns
I went on to the salinas at San Pedro, down the port road, but it was VERY quiet here, the only birds of note being 3 Little Terns still around.  I didn't stay here too long as I had planned to go down 'La Mota' - the walkway/cycleway that divides the Mar Menor from the salinas, and for which reason I had brought my folding bike with me (I didn't fancy walking the 3+ km each way with all my gear in that heat!).  I cycled down the track, passing the moulting group of Black-necked Grebes (of which there were fewer than last week - around 350), past all the little beaches on the pools (which again had fewer waders than last week), past the second windmill and on to the 'encañizadas' area.  Here I could see the birds I had been watching yesterday but from the other side, and I did find some Knot, 6 in all, one an adult which still had vestiges of summer plumage.  Also seen here were 3 Bar-tailed Godwits, plus 48 Sandwich Terns, 8 Common and 8 Little Terns, around 40 Little Egrets, Dunlin, Little Stints, Sanderling, Grey Plovers, Redshank and Turnstone.

Ringed Plover on one of the mud banks dividing the salina pools
Saturday, 15th September 2012 - Marchamalo salinas &  Encañizadas (La Manga)

Again, a morning visit to Marchamalo (in case you're wondering why, apart from the fact it's a good place at the moment to see waders close up, there's been a smattering of Pectoral Sandpipers in the north and more recently the east of the spanish peninsula, so if one turns up here it should be easy to see and I don't want to miss it!).  Well, there wan't a Pec., but there were definitely more waders than yesterday, with 3 Curlew Sandpipers (2 adults still with some red feathers), 8 Dunlin, 5 Little Stint, 1 Common Sandpiper, 18 Black-winged Stilts, 4 Ringed Plovers plus Kentish Plovers.  Also a single Willow Warbler, and on my way out of the salinas, a Sparrowhawk (yesterday, a friend watching for raptor passage from a mountain area near Cartagena had 23 Sparrowhawks, so they're obviously on the move - he also had an Osprey).

 Little Stint with some quite strange head markings

 Juvenile Curlew Sandpiper...

 ...and an adult still showing breeding plumage feathers

 Adult male Ringed Plover
 The only two juvenile Greater Flamingos

  A quite showy Common Redshank
 Adult Slender-billed Gull - note the dark smudge behind the ear coverts - winter plumage

 The commonest gull seen anywhere - Yellow-legged Gulls roosting on one of the dry lagoons

I carried on to the 'Encañizadas' again (I was hoping that the waders, in the morning, might be along the shoreline, but no such luck).  Interesting birds here were Whimbrel, Black-tailed Godwits (unusual here - normally the godwits are Bar-tailed), a Mediterranean Gull with a red colour ring on it with white writing, but too distant to be able to read, and in amongst the 120 or so Little Egrets, a hybrid Little Egret / Western Reef Heron.  This bird was generally a pale blue/grey colour, with yellow feet, and a pale base to the bill.  Quite interesting to see.  There were also some small birds about, with Common Swift, Red-rumped Swallows (8), a Reed Warbler and a single Spotted Flycatcher.

Gulls and terns roosting. The gull facing you above the Grey Plover is a ringed Mediterranean Gull

Three record shots showing the Little Egret x Western Reef Heron, with Little Egrets

 Some of the passerine migrants seen - Reed Warbler...

 ...Spotted Flycatcher...
 ...and Willow Warbler

Sunday, 16th September 2012 - Marchamalo salinas & Cabo Tiñosa

Another morning visit to Marchamalo, but with little change.  A couple of Avocets were new, as was a 4th Curlew Sandpiper.  Also of note was a group of Grey Herons that had obviously just arrived, and 2 Mediterranean Gulls (adults in winter plumage).

 Recent arrivals to the salinas, a group of Grey Herons

 Tricky business landing, when you're not used to it

 Adult and juvenile Curlew Sandpipers
 Common Sandpiper out on the prowl for food

 'Flashing' Curlew Sandpiper

Dunlin with Little Stint

I decided to try somewhere high up to see if there was anything of a raptor movement, and decided upon Cabo Tiñosa, an old fort/gun battery on the coast between Cartagena and Mazarron.  It took about an hour to get there and I had a good walk around the fort itself, but there was absolutely nothing in the way of raptors (or indeed birds in general - the only bird of note was a single Black Wheatear).

 Black Wheatear - one of very few birds seen

On my way back home, near the village of Canteras, I saw a group of raptors and so pulled off the road to have a look.  I got some photos, and general opinion is that they were an adult and immature Golden Eagle, plus a pair of Bonelli's Eagles.  Not exactly migration material, but nice to see nonetheless.
 Record shot of adult and immature Golden Eagles

Record shot of two Golden Eagles (originally i.d.'d as Bonelli's Eagles)

Monday, 17th September 2012 - Marchamalo salinas

A midday visit today, but the only noticeable change from yesterday was that the Avocet numbers had increased to nine.

 Another (or the same) juvenile Little Stint with the strange head markings


Curlew Sandpipers with a Dunlin and Little Stint in the foreground
Tuesday, 18th September 2012 - Marchamalo salinas, Lo Poyo, EDAR El Algar, desembocadura de la rambla de Albujon 

Back to a morning visit today to the salinas, with a heavy mist/low cloud in the sky, and a noticeable increase in Little Stint numbers (9) and a group of 5 Black-tailed Godwits.  On the way back to Los Belones, a single Common Swift.

 Several Grey Herons took off from the salinas, heading south east

 A Little Stint with 'small person syndrome', chasing off a Dunlin

 Juvenile and adult Little Stint

 Greenshank giving a Black-tailed Godwit a wide berth

 A Redshank got closer, but was still pretty nervous about passing the Godwit

 Possible a local bred bird, a juvenile Kentish Plover

In the afternoon, I had a look at 'Lo Poyo' (beach area between Los Nietos and Los Urrutias), ever hopeful for a Dotterel, but I didn't even see a Richard's Pipit!  I did however see a female/immature Marsh Harrier and pale morph Booted Eagle.

I then called into the old EDAR at El Algar, but the only pool with any water was void of birds.  However, a raptor sat on an electricity pylon, when I got my 'scope on it, turned out to be a (presumed juvenile) Osprey!  A very good sighting.  It also obviously saw me, as it got up and flew lazily off, in the direction of Cartagena.  Also there were 3 Turtle Doves.

Record shots of the Osprey seen at the old sewage works at El Algar

My last stop of the afternoon was at the 'desembocadura de la rambla de Albujon' beyond Los Urrutias - literally 'where the rambla empties into the sea' on the Mar Menor.  Here again things were pretty quiet, the only birds of note being 5 Turnstone and a Kingfisher.

Wednesday, 19th September 2012 - Marchamalo salinas & Calblanque

Today I called in at Marchamalo Salinas at midday.  Changes from yesterday were a total of 22 Grey Heron, 24 Avocet, 6 Curlew Sandpipers (2 adults and now 4 juveniles), a Grey Plover, 3 Spotted Redshank, only 2 Black-tailed Godwits, 54 Greater Flamingo (3 of which were juveniles) and 21 Sandwich Terns.

A couple (possibly a pair) of Ringed Plovers, the male being particularly aggresive 

Later in the afternoon I called in at Calblanque (the Mediterranean side of the autovia, between Los Belones and Cabo de Palos).  The first bird of note was a Peregrine, feeding on one of the H.T. pylons.  On checking the photos I took, it appears it was eating a Woodpigeon (of which there were 17 on nearby H.T. cables).

 Peregrine falcon seen tearing a pigeon apart on a pylon

Also on the wires were 5 Bee-eaters, dropping down occasionally to catch some insect and then returning to the cables.

                                   Bee-eater swooping around searching for food
In nearby carab trees, there were a couple of Spotted Flycatchers together, and a Subalpine Warbler.

Spotted Flycatcher 
On the way down to the disused ‘Rasall salinas’, I stopped off at an abandoned cottage which can be quite good when there are passerine migrants about, but on this occasion I only saw 6 Crested/Thekla Larks and a male Common Redstart.

Record shot of a male Common Redstart
At the Salinas themselves, the only birds I saw were 2 Black Winged Stilts, and I could hear Red-legged Partridges somewhere in the hills.  Driving to the far end of Calblanque, I saw a single Whinchat in some of the scrub, and at the end of Calblanque a Black Wheatear on top of an abandoned building, and a couple of Willow Warblers together.