Here in Spain, the Christmas festivities continue through to 12th night (Reyes) on the 6th January. The 6th is normally a national holiday, but as it fell this year on a Sunday, in some provinces (Murcia included), the holiday was passed over to the 7th, which marked the official end of Christmas, making the weekend a 3 day weekend.
Obviously I’ve been making good use of these holidays especially as the weather has been mainly clear skies, light or no wind and mild, getting out into the field almost every day. This is a summary. One of my readers commented that he liked that I put a few location shots in my Extremadura report, so I'll try to include some habitat shots in my reports in future.
Thursday, 3rd January. After working in the morning, I arranged to go to the ‘Arenal’ at Los Nietos (on the Mar Menor) together with Pepe Navarro to look for the Richard’s Pipit there. It wasn’t the best of days, with overcast skies and a north-easterly force 3-4 wind, and no surprise, we didn’t locate the pipit. We just had a few Crested Larks, Serins, Stonechats and Meadow Pipits. As we still had an hour and a half of light left, we decided to go to the ‘desembocadura de la rambla de Albujon’, about 6 km. further west along the Mar Menor. Here we had a bit more luck with the birds, seeing amongst other things, Bluethroat, Water Pipit, Common and Jack Snipe and an adult Night Heron (it seems that there are just so many birds that should be in Africa just aren’t bothering anymore).
Friday, 4th January. After another morning at work, I went in the afternoon to the old sewage farm (EDAR) at El Algar, meeting up with Stefán Aki Ragnarsson to have another look at/for the Long-legged Buzzard. With clear skies and no wind, it took some looking for, especially as there is a new Common Buzzard in the area with a pale head and eye-stripe which from behind looked suspiciously like the Long-legged. Eventually we found it, soaring with 3 other Common Buzzards some way off from the EDAR. It was interesting to note how much longer winged it was compared to the Common Buzzards. Other birds of interest seen were a ringtail Hen Harrier, a couple of Marsh Harriers, 3 Kestrel and a Sparrowhawk.
The Common Buzzard easily mistaken for the Long-legged from behind until it shows its tail
Another, this time more typical, Common Buzzard that seems to have taken up residence
The same bird, in flight
Saturday, 5th January. The whole day free (again), and clear skies, no wind and afternoon temperature around 20ºC. I decided to start the day visiting a farm reservoir where there is sometimes a Ferruginous Duck, and I was lucky today, seeing 2 Pochard (male & female), the Ferruginous Duck (a male), 4 Coot, 6 Little Grebes and a couple of Black Necked Grebes.
The male Ferruginous Duck...
... showing its wing pattern
Leaving there at about 11-30, I decided to have a look over the Mar Menor from a point just west of the village of Los Urrutias. Jose Navarro had told me that he’d seen some Common Scoter there a few days ago and I wanted to see if they were still around. Well, they didn’t take long to find and there was also a large group of Great Crested Grebes (48 in total) and Black Necked Grebes (25). I also had a Great White Egret settle down in front of me for a while, but there were 2 other duck which appeared like scoters but not Common Scoters. They were totally separate from the Common Scoters, at the limit of telescope range, and had their heads under their wings, asleep. The only way to confirm my suspicions was to see them with their wings open, so I settled down for a possible long wait. While waiting I had a Red-breasted Merganser (redhead) float past – my first one this winter in the Mar Menor. (They used to be relatively common, but each year there seems to be less). I also had Dartford Warbler and Bluethroat. Then, after about an hour and a half (by which time I had been joined by Jose Navarro), they eventually started preening, and I got a sight of one of them with its wings open – big white flash – Velvet Scoter. The other one did the same and was confirmed as another Velvet. This was a really good record for Murcia – I’ve only seen one before, strangely enough in the same location at the beginning of January 2008 – maybe I need to check out the zone on a more regular basis, or is it just that this winter there have been lots of Scoter about (there’s certainly more Common Scoter being seen than is usual).
'Digiscoped' record shot of one of the Velvet Scoter and Red Breasted Merganser...
...the two Velvet Scoters with a Great Crested Grebe passing by...
... and the two Velvet Scoters finally awake
Some habitat shots of the famous 'desembocadura de la Rambla de ALbujon'
Looks nothing special, but has turned up some good birds over the years, such as Belted Kingfisher and King Eider
And the rambla itself, which empties into the Mar Menor
The Osprey that did a flypast before settling on an H.T. pylon in the distance
... and the 'ringtail' harrier hunting over the lemon groves
My last stop of the day was at the harrier roost in the ‘marina de Carmoli’, where I had a minimum of 9 Marsh Harriers and a couple of ‘ringtail’ Hen Harriers.
Sunday, 6th January. A leisurely 10 am. start to the day today at the Los Urrutias sailing club (on the Mar Menor). The day was totally cloudless again with no wind and max. temperature around 20ºC. Interestingly, the weather strongly affects the Mar Menor – as it is so shallow, when there is high pressure (as there was today), the water is literally ‘pushed’ out and large areas are uncovered (almost like a permanent low tide). At the Los Urrutias sailing club, large areas of mud/algae become uncovered which waders and members of the heron family love, hence there are always Little Egrets/Great White Egrets/Grey Herons around.
Today there was a single Little Egret, another single Great White Egret and a Grey Heron, a group of 9 Greenshank and a rather large group (for here) of 78 Black-headed Gulls.
Going further west along the Mar Menor, and meeting up with various birdwatchers, over the Marina de Carmoli there were up to 3 Booted Eagles soaring together, plus 2 Marsh Harriers. On the Mar Menor, the 3 Common Scoter, 2 Velvet Scoter and Red-breasted Merganser were again visible, and around at the old EDAR of El Algar, 2 Common Buzzards on electric pylons.
A slightly better shot of the two Velvet Scoter
More different Common Buzzards at the EDAR...
... this one quite unusual, being barred underneath
A flight shot of the above bird
On the way over to Calblanque, I had a Buzzard on one of the H.T. pylons, so a quick stop and check to make sure it was a Common, which it was. Then on to the Salinas.
Here there was a good concentration of Audouins – I counted 172 in total, and while going through them read 19 rings, and found one of my target birds, an adult Common Gull. Also there, were a dozen Yellow-legged Gulls and 5 Slender Billed Gulls doing their normal plunge-diving feeding action.
Adult and juvenile Yellow-legged Gull in amongst the Audouins...
... and the adult Common Gull
Finished with the gulls, I walked along the back of the Salinas to some other pools which is where in the past I’ve seen Water Rail, and it was while walking here that I came across another of my targets, a Wryneck sitting on a fencepost. The Wryneck in this area is very sparse and all the sightings I’ve had locally are either on passage or winter birds, I’ve noticed Wrynecks at the Salinas here over the last 3 winters now. There were also lots of finches (Green, Gold, Serins, the odd Chaffinch), up to 4 Dartford Warblers, a Hoopoe, Stonechats, Crested Larks, Meadow Pipits, Fan-tailed Warblers, a couple of Songthrushes, Black Redstarts and a pair of Green Woodpeckers trying to hide on the palm tree trunks. In the pools where I’ve seen Water Rail in the past were a couple of immature Greater Flamingos, a pair of Mallard, a couple of Little Egrets and 3 Spotted Redshanks and a Water Pipit hopping around, and while I was there a group of 9 Kentish Plover dropped in. But no sign of the Water Rail. I stayed there for about half an hour scoping, but no sign. I decided to give up and go back, and while on my way back I at least heard the typical ‘pig being murdered’ call of a Water Rail. Well, two and a half out of three ain’t bad!
Wintering Wryneck habitat...
... with good views!
...and a record shot of the bird in question together with a Stonechat...
...and as a neighbour, Green Woodpeckers - this one trying to hide
Getting back to the car, I drove to the east end of Calblanque, and on the way had a large flock of about 60 Meadow Pipits fly by, and at the end, a single Black Wheatear. Coming out of Calblanque itself, I was surprised to hear a Corn Bunting singing, so I stopped to look for it (not that they take much searching for), and found two of them. A very pleasant 3 ½ hours spent!
Singing its heart out was this Corn Bunting
Some of the few birds at the San Pedro salinas - here a nice breeding plumage Black Tailed Godwit...
... one of a few Spotted Redshanks around at the moment...
... the ever present Black Winged Stilt and Avocet...
... and the most unusual bird - this Black Necked Grebe!
And that’s the end of the Christmas and New Years holidays for this winter!