Monday, 26 November 2012

Out and about during the week (19th – 25th November 2012).

The weather over the past week has been typical for the time of the year, with lots of low cloud and heavy mist/fog overnight, clearing slowly during the mornings.  Then weak sunshine until sunset at around 5-30 pm.  There’s been hardly any wind, and very few novelties on the bird front.  I’ve been out a few times, more due to habit than anything else.  One of my favorite occupations at this time of year is colour ring reading.  Around here there are two principle species to read rings of, Greater Flamingos and Audouin’s Gulls.  My favourite places to do this are San Pedro del Pinatar salinas, Marchamalo Salinas (at the entrance to La Manga) and Rasall Salinas in Calblanque (Mediterranean side, between Los Belones and Cabo de Palos).  Although the two latter salinas no longer function, after the recent rains they now hold plenty of water, and at times the abovementioned species are close enough that with a telescope, colour rings can be read.

For that reason, on Monday afternoon (the 19th November) I spent a couple of hours at Calblanque having a general look around, but also with the specific intention of  ring reading.  The afternoon started very well with a pair of adult Bonelli’s Eagles flying over me as I made my way down there. 

 The pair of Bonelli's Eagles, male left, female right

 Closer view of the female...

... and of the male
Apart from that I saw the normal species (Kestrel; Black Redstart; Robin; Great Tit; Greenfinch; Chaffinch; Serin; Linnet; Sardinian Warbler; Dartford Warbler; Stonechat; Meadow Pipit; Southern Grey Shrike; Black Wheatear; Redshank; Greenshank; Black Winged Stilt) and of my ‘target’ species, of the 6 Greater Flamingo I saw 2 were colour ringed, and of the 128 Audouin’s Gulls, I managed to read 16 rings (there may have been more of these ringed, but as they have the habit of sitting down on the walls of the lagoons, you never know unless they stand up).

 Audouin's Gulls on the 'motas' (walls) of the lagoons

A closer view
Black Wheatear keeping a lookout 

On Tuesday afternoon (20th November), as it was a warm sunny afternoon, I took a trip down to the Saladares del Guadalentín, the area between Alhama de Murcia, Totana and Mazarron.  Here there is a chance of seeing ‘steppe’ species although the area itself can’t be truly considered ‘steppe’.  Here there were large numbers of passerines feeding on the fields, including 20+ groups of Skylarks, Goldfinches, Chaffinches, Greenfinches, Serins, Crested Larks, Meadow Pipits, and a single Tree Sparrow. I also saw a group of 15+ Lapwing in flight.  I thought I’d try to find them later (they were distant when I saw them, flying in the opposite direction to me), but when I tried I couldn’t locate them.  I did however find a group of 32 Black Bellied Sandgrouse feeding distantly in a field.  Apart from that, birds of interest were a couple of Marsh Harriers, a single Merlin, 3 Hoopoe, a group of 20 Cattle Egrets and a flock of 30+ Stone Curlews in flight, and as I left the area at dusk, a group of 15 Magpies and 5 Jackdaws flying, presumably to roost.

 On Thursday afternoon (22nd November), I did a little tour of the Mar Menor starting with the Arenal (sand-dune area) at Los Nietos.  I was principally looking for Richard’s Pipits of which I neither saw nor heard.  There were however plenty of Meadow Pipits around, and I was lucky enough to see 2 Bluthroats (which winter around the Mar Menor) and a Wryneck in a reedbed.  This latter was interesting, as there had been one seen a couple of days earlier just west of Punta Brava (Los Urrutias – the next village along the Mar Menor).  Possibly the same bird, or had there been a movement of them – a few do seem to winter along the coastal areas of the Mediterranean, and there are regular reports of them from Calblanque around January/February time.  The most impressive sighting of the afternoon though, was the large flock of Cormorants on the Mar Menor (of about 500 birds).  They have been seen for several winters now, keeping very much together as a flock and just ‘descending’ on an area.  Sometimes they are feeding, but the group I saw this day didn’t seem to be bothering to.  The just tipped up just off the beach, stopped there for about 15 minutes, then all got up and moved further along the beach, some of them coming out of the water onto the beach itself.  They stayed for a while again, and then moved off into the Mar Menor.  Quite an impressive sight.

 Part of the Cormorant flock as it arrives...

 ...close up, sat on the water
 The front of the flock...

 ...the centre...

 ...and the rear

 The flock as it hits another part of the beach

 A pair of winter regulars, Southern Grey Shrike...

 ...and Meadow Pipit

On the way out from the Arenal, I flushed a Common Buzzard, and then en-route to my next site, I saw 3 pale phase Booted Eagles soaring low over the road.

My next stop was the sailing club at Los Urrutias.  There was nothing too spectacular here, but I did see a couple of Ringed Plovers and a Greenshank feeding in one of the roadside puddles, and there was a Water Pipit and Reed Bunting flying around.  On the Mar Menor was a group of 8 Sandwich Terns and 4 Slender-billed Gulls, which appeared very pink – in fact many of the S.B.Gulls I have seen recently seem to be in their breeding plumage.

Greenshank and Ringed Plover feeding in a roadside puddle
I then called in at the reedbed area just beyond Punta Brava (Los Urrutias).  Again nothing spectacular, but a flock of 18 Stone Curlews and a very nice male Bluethroat made it worth the stop.

 Male Bluethroat

 One of the flock of Stone Curlews...

 ... and two more

My final stop was at the Rambla de Albujon ‘estuary’ (where the rambla drains into the Mar Menor).  Normally at this time of year, this should be full of Reed Buntings, Snipe (Common and Jack) and the Penduline Tits should be here by now, but since the reeds in the rambla were cut late this year (in September) and following the heavy rains all the reeds that are normally left uncut were washed away (presumably together with the reed seeds that the Buntings and Tits feed on), there has been no sign of the Buntings and Tits this autumn, and numbers of snipe seem to be much lower than normal.  What I actually saw were a group of 15 Cormorants flying high but following the course of the rambla to the Mar Menor, 2 Greenshanks, 9 Turnstones a single Common Snipe and a Water Pipit.

On Saturday (24th November) I started the day with a seawatch from Cabo de Palos with Salvador Garcia Barcelona.  Salva used to organize the seawatching here many years ago prior to moving down to Malaga province.  However, things were very quiet, and after just over an hour we’d only seen a group of 12 Balearic Shearwaters moving north, a single Audouin’s Gulls and around 60 Gannets (of all ages) moving principally north, so we decided to give up.

 I went on to Portman bay after this, as I’d been told that there was a lot of water there, and that during the week there’d been a reasonable group of Audouin’s Gulls there.  Well, there were around 500 Black Headed Gulls there together with at least 21 Grey Herons and a few Mallard, but they were tucked right at the back of the bay, too distant to see any rings.  Out to sea, over the Tuna ‘farm’ was a massive flock of birds, mainly Yellow-legged Gulls but with a good number of Gannets too, and probably other birds, but they were too distant and in the sun too much to be able to thoroughly check.

 Flock of mainly Black-headed Gulls tucked in the back of the lagoon behind the beach
 Out to sea, the flock of gulls over the Tuna farm

 Quite comical when I walked back to my car, were a couple of Water Rails in the reeds close to the car obviously trying to outdo each other in volume.  I only saw one very briefly but they were calling almost continuously with those ‘sounds like a pig being butchered’ calls of theirs.

Later in the day I called in once again to Calblanque, checking out the Audouin’s again for rings, and walking along the back of the Salinas (principally to see if I could see or hear any Wrynecks there).  No Wrynecks but plenty of mosquitos!  Birds that I did see were Goldfinch; Sardinian Warblers; Cattle Egret; Little Owl; White Wagtails; Fan-tailed Warblers; Kestrels; Stonechats; Redshank; Greenshank; Black Redstart; Green Woodpeckers; Greater Flamingo; Greenfinches, Serins; Meadow Pipits; Red-legged Partridge; Crested Larks; Water Pipit; Hoopoes; Songthrushes, Blackbird.

 A couple of shots of the Little Owl - one eye orange, the other yellow!  Is this normal?
 White Wagtail

Finally I called into the Playa Paraiso side of the Marchamalo Salinas. In the Salinas themselves from here I had very little (a single Redshank, Black Winged Stilt, 6 Little Stints and 9 Ringed Plovers), but in the area by the beach there were quite a few passerines flitting about, and I saw a group of about 30 Serins, 12 Spotless Starlings, Blackbird, 2 Black Redstarts, 3 Chiffchaffs, 3 Meadow Pipits, 2 Water Pipits, 2 Reed Buntings, a Robin, a male Bluethroat, 3 Fan-tailed Warblers and I heard a single Cetti’s Warbler.

 Male Stonechat at the salinas...
...and another Bluethroat

Yesterday (Sunday, 25th) I just had time for a quick visit in the morning to Monte Cenizas in Atamaria (the hill with the guns behind the La Manga Club).  I wanted to see if I could find any more Goldcrests which I’ve seen in the past here at this time of year and which seen to hitch up in the Long-tailed Tit flocks.  However I was unlucky - not only not seeing crests, but I didn’t actually see any Long-tailed Tits (only heard them from a distance).  Other birds that I did see were a pair of Thekla Larks, Stonechat, Chaffinches, Sardinian Warblers, Dartford Warblers, Chiffchaffs, Serins (singing), Greenfinches, Great Tits, Wrens, Meadow Pipits and I heard Crested Tits on a couple of occasions.

 Record shot of a Wren, hiding as always
Thekla Lark

Monday, 19 November 2012

Out and about during the week of 13th – 18th November 2012.

This time of year is normally fairly quiet, and the weather changeable and autumn migration at its end.

The past week has again been wet and windy but unseasonably warm, but I managed to get out to my usual local areas of the lighthouse gardens and Marchamalo salinas a couple of times midweek but with nothing new seen – still plenty of Black Redstarts at the lighthouse and something of a fall there on Tuesday 14th and Wednesday 15th with Blackbirds, Robins, Chaffinches, Stonechats, Chiffchaffs, Greenfinches and Sardinian Warblers, but the numbers of waders at Marchamalo having dropped noticeably.

 One of the winter residents in the lighthouse gardens, male Black Redstart...

...and Spotless Starling with four 'spotty' Starlings

 Still passing through, one of the Songthrushes seen this week

Now seen constantly overhead, Crag Martin

 I also managed to get over to the old salinas at Calblanque (Salinas de Rasall) where Audouins Gull numbers are starting to build up.  I counted 77 there on Wednesday afternoon, and managed to read 12 colour rings.  As is normal for around here, none of the birds were juveniles, the youngest being a second calendar year bird. About half the birds were ringed as pullus in the ‘La Mata’ lagoon near Torrevieja in Alicante province and most of the others as pullus at the Delta del Ebro in Tarragona (Cataluña).
Also at Calblanque I saw a couple of Siskins.  Judging by the reports I have been hearing from around Spain, this winter seems like it will be a good one for this species. (As an aside, another finch species, Lesser Redpoll has been present further up the coast in Alicante province, with a group of 6 being seen one of which was caught and ringed.  This is a species considered a rarity here in Spain, requiring a rarity description.)

 A 'looking into the sun' shot, two Siskins
 One of a couple of Hoopoes seen in Calblanque

 Seen from the hide at Calblanque, three of a group of four Greater Flamingos
On Friday afternoon (16th November) I had a look at the ‘Encañizadas’ at the end of La Manga strip. It had been raining heavily in the morning, so I hoped that there wouldn’t be much disturbance there, and so it turned out.  There were groups of Greater Flamingos fairly close, and good numbers of waders (1 Redshank, 8 Greenshank, 6 Curlew, 75 Dunlin, 15 Little Stint, 18 Ringed Plover, 23 Kentish Plover, 6 Grey Plover, 12 Turnstone and 4 Sanderling).  Flying along the Mediterranean edge of the Encañizadas was a constant stream of Cormorants in small groups, and I counted 228 during the time I was there.  On a single bush out in the marsh area I saw a stunning adult male Bluethroat (which disappeared as soon as I got my camera out), and in the same area I heard a Dartford Warbler.  Looking out across the gap between where I was and the San Pedro del Pinatar Salinas on one of the H.T. pylons was the regular Peregrine (it likes to sit there, getting a view over the whole area), and on one of the H.T. cables, a Kingfisher.  On the other side of the water I counted 94 Grey Herons in total with 9 of them on the roof of the abandoned house there.  Keeping them company on the roof was a Great White Egret, and there were a further 3 of these in the marsh, together with a group of 20 Spoonbills.  In the water itself but trying to keep hidden in the lee of the marshes, I counted 35 Mallard.  I had been there for just over an hour when I heard an almighty ‘bang’ which I originally thought was an explosion of some form, but it was apparently heard from several places at some distance from where I was, and I can only put it down to a sonic boom.  Whatever it was, it made me jump, but more importantly it put all the birds in the area up.  Following a group of duck with my bins, I could see they weren’t Mallard, and when they finally settled I could get the ‘scope on them and see that they were 6 Pintail (3 males) and a male Wigeon, one of the more infrequent ducks in the area.  A well spent hour and a half!

On Saturday 17th November, I went out for the morning ringing to the Quipar River, near Calasparra.  This is an inland river with water all year round (although not much more than a trickle in summer) and is surrounded by tamarisk (taray) bushes, and attracts a lot of insects and insectivorous birdlife.  The conditions were perfect for ringing, overcast with no wind, but there didn’t seem to be too many birds about.  However we managed to catch 39 birds of 9 species, the most common being Chiff-chaffs followed by Blackcaps, both of which winter here.  Surprise birds were a group of 4 Firecrests and a single Goldcrest, neither of which species had been ringed here before. It was the first time that I remember being able to compare Firecrest and Goldcrest in the hand.  Other birds caught were Songthrush, Robin, Black Redstart, Sardinian Warbler and Long-tailed Tit, and the only other birds heard were flyover Greenfinches and Siskins, and Wren and Cetti’s Warbler.

 The crew: José María Perez-Crespo, Almudena Lerín, Sergio Sánchez, Jose Antonio Zamora, Antonio Zamora and Francisco Alberto García Castellanos
 The general area
 and one of the ringing areas

And finally, the birds:



 Male Sardinian Warbler

 Two of the Firecrests caught
 and another

 Firecrest (with a strop on) and Goldcrest together

 The only recapture of the day, this Songthrush ringed almost exactly a year ago here

 Black Redstart

 Female Blackcap

and a male

We finished at 13:30 (having started at 7:30 a.m.), and I decided instead of going straight home, as I was halfway, to go to the area of ‘Revolcadores’ southwest of the town of Caravaca de la Cruz.  This is the highest area of the province of Murcia, and is where Murcia meets Granada and Albacete provinces.  By the time I got there I knew I only had a maximum of 2 hours if the weather held (which it didn’t, but it didn’t start raining till about 5pm by which time I was ready to leave anyway).  Being the highest area in Murcia, it’s where you have the best chance of seeing birds otherwise hard to see in Murcia, such as Redwing, Fieldfare and Great Spotted Woodpecker.  Of these I saw nothing of the thrushes (maybe it as too warm) but I did see Great Spotted Woodpecker (a pair chasing each other round some dead trees), and a surprise bird, my first ever Nuthatch in the region of Murcia.  The only thrush that WAS common was Mistle Thrush, calling from just about everywhere.  Other birds seen there were a group of 14 Corn Buntings, Cirl Bunting, Rock Buntings, Carrion Crows, Green Woodpeckers, Woodlarks, Magpies, Crested and Great Tits and a spanking single adult male Hen Harrier.  No photos of any of these I’m afraid - it was either too dark or the birds too distant or too fast!

After a lazy start on Sunday morning, I went over to an area close to the famous 'El Hondo' reserve near Crevillente in Alicante province.  Here there was another ringing session, but this time in the afternoon.  Setting 2 lines of 4 nets by about 2pm, we had lunch nearby and returned to the nets.  Nothing too stunning in them - again plenty of Chiffchaffs, Blackcaps and Reed Buntings.  While ringing these, we were caught out by a very heavy shower that lasted about 20 minutes, which required us to go out in the rain and fold the nets.  When the shower was over, as we were all soaked, we decided to just re-open the closest nets and take down the furthest.  By the time we returned to the close nets, there had been the pre-roosting movement of birds, with more Chiffchaffs, Blackcaps and Reed Buntings caught.  In total during the afternoon, about 35 birds were caught and apart from getting  getting thoroughly soaked, it was a good afternoon made better by hearing Common Cranes in the distance as we took down the nets.