Wednesday, 2 January 2013

Ringing out the old and ringing in the new

Welcome 2013.  To all readers, a very happy and prosperous new year.

This time of year is when birdwise I take balance of the old year and try to kick-start the New Year with my personal ‘birdrace’.

Mainly due to the film ‘The Big Year’ released last year, the buzzphrase here in Spain seems to be ‘Big Year’.  This is something I have been doing every year in one form or another ever since I first started birdwatching 40 years ago (was it really that long ago!).  Since I’ve been living in Spain, apart from keeping details of new birds seen here, my ‘yearlist’ has been confined to the region of Murcia – peninsular Spain is just too big to go for new birds anywhere on the peninsula, although I do take the occasional trip outside the region.  To that end, my ‘yearlist’ for 2012 came to 226 species, 4 more than in 2011 but a fair way below my best year, 2009 when I saw 242.  But all in all, quite respectable.  Every year I seem to miss something which I feel I SHOULD have seen – in both 2009 and 2011 it was Woodlark, in 2010 Firecrest, and in 2012, believe it or not, it was Blue Tit (the thing is that I just didn’t trip over one, and I certainly wasn’t going to make a special couple of hundred kilometre round trip just to find one!).  Note the common thread with all these birds – they’re all woodland birds – I really must get out into the woods more often!  It also shows that although I always keep a ‘yearlist’, I don’t take it TOO seriously.

So, enough about the old year, come on the new one!  As I mentioned before, I normally start the new year with my own personal ‘birdrace’, with others if anyone can manage to be up bright and early on New Years day, but if not on my own.  Last year was a bit of a disaster – I was in the UK with several carloads of people, but we had to call it off early afternoon as rain stopped play – and when I say rain, it was the real thing, absolutely bucketing down without the prospect of it stopping.

Unlike ‘normal’ ‘birdraces’ that usually take place in the Spring, the main constraint on a ‘New Years day’ race is not the availability of birds so much as the number of hours of daylight you have to see them in, and my strategy is to go to the furthest point while it’s dark and start as it gets light.  This is a report of the day.  There are not many photos in this report I’m afraid, as on a birdrace there’s just not enough time to mess around with cameras.

So Tuesday 1st saw me up at 6 and on the top of Sierra Espuña (an hour and a half’s drive away) at 8-15.  This is a woodland/mountainous area where I expected to get all my woodland birds, which are normally more active first thing.  So far so good, except once I got there it was totally overcast and start to rain lightly!  I walked out to the ‘Pozos de Nieve de Murcia’ expecting to get all the thrushes including Ring Ouzel, possibly Redwing but definitely Mistle Thrush, only to find when I got there that NOTHING was moving, and apart from a group of Long-tailed Tits and various Chaffinches, I drew a total blank, and got soaked through to boot!  I came back to another lower area in Espuña where there was a café at around 10 o’clock and had a walk around the woodland there.  Just my luck, it finally stopped raining then, but I certainly wasn’t going back up to the top again – apart from anything else, I didn’t have the time.  I managed to luck into ‘tit’ flock there, which included a couple of non-guaranteed birds such as Firecrest and Short-toed Treecreeper (another species I didn’t see at all in Murcia in 2012!), and got all the commoner birds such as Crested, Great and Coat Tits, Robin, Blackbird, Black Redstart, Southern Grey Shrike, Green Woodpecker (heard only). I spent far too much time hunting for Crossbill and finally left Espuña at 11-20 with only 18 species under the belt.

 Photo of the 'Pozos de la Nieve de Murcia' in Sierra Espuna, taken on a sunnier day

My next stop was going to be the Guadalentín valley for steppe species, but I had recently been made aware of a sewage farm en route (the EDAR of Alhama de Murcia) and thought I’d call in there on the off chance of overwintering hirundines.  I didn’t see any, but DID pick up almost all the ducks I had expected to see at another EDAR in Mazarron apart from Ferruginous Duck (which I had another site for anyway if I had time), and this meant that by not having to go to Mazarron I could claw back an hour.  So after 40 minutes and with another 18 species including Green Sandpiper, Black-necked and Little Grebe, Mallard, Shelduck, Pochard, White-headed Duck, Purple Gallinule, Marsh Harrier, Cetti´s and Dartford Warblers, Common Snipe and Green Sandpiper, I was making tracks for the Gaudalentín valley.

 Some of the wildfowl at the EDAR Alhama de Murcia

Here I had nothing too startling – no Little Bustards or Black-bellied Sandgrouse, but I did manage to pick up most of the other birds I expected – Stonechat, Crested, Sky and Lesser Short-toed Larks, Magpie, Jackdaw, Little Owl, Water and Meadow Pipits, Blackcap and Sardinian Warbler, Red-legged Partridge, my first Kestrels of the day and a surprise bird, a group of 15 Golden Plover.  Again, I stayed far too long, this time searching for Calandra Lark which I didn’t see in the end.

From here at 14:25 with another 22 species under the belt, it was a 40 minute dash back to closer to home, Calblanque, next to my home village of Los Belones.  Here I had a stroke of luck in re-locating one of two Rock Buntings I had found a few days ago, and in the Salinas were Greater Flamingo, Slender-billed, Yellow-legged and Audouins Gulls, but no luck with the Common Gull which was what I particularly wanted.  Black Wheatear and Crag Martins here were welcome additions to the list.

 The Rasall salinas at Calblanque

I followed that by a quick dash to the lighthouse at Cabo de Palos hoping for Cormorant, Shag and Gannet, but of the three I only got Gannet, and I couldn’t wait too long as I still hoped to stop at a few more places.
My next stop, at 4 pm., were the Marchamalo Salinas for waders, where I picked up Shelduck, Grey Heron, Little Stint, Redshank, Greenshank and Avocet, but no sign of plovers (Ringed and Kentish).  Things were definitely not going to plan – I didn’t even hear any Monk Parakeets which normally are all over the place.
From here, as I had arranged to meet someone to look for the Long-legged Buzzard, I went straight to the old sewage farm (EDAR) of El Algar, finishing (giving up on) the day there. I just missed the L.L.Buzzard by about a quarter of an hour and couldn’t find any of the 2 or 3 Common Buzzards that are wintering around the area, and the only new bird (and a surprise one at that) was a Sparrowhawk.

 The old EDAR at El Algar - doesn't look much, but good for raptors over surrounding fields

All in all, not quite the day I had expected, but it didn’t bode well from the start with getting wet and not seeing hardly anything at my first stop.  And my total for the day, 71 species – far short of my best ever of 100.  C’est la vie!

Species seen (in the order of sighting):
1.      Long-tailed Tit (Aegithalus caudatus)      
2.      Chaffinch (Fringilla coelebs)
3.      Jay (Garrulus glandarius)
4.      Great Tit Parus major)
5.      Crested Tit Parus cristatus)
6.      Black Redstart (Phoenicurus ochrurus)
7.      Robin (Erithacus rubecula)
8.      Firecrest (Regulus ignicapilla)
9.      Green Woodpecker (Picus viridis)
10.  Short-toed Treecreeper (Certhis brachydactyla)
11.  Coal Tit (Parus ater)
12.  Blackbird (Turdus merula)
13.  Southern Grey Shrike (Lanius meridionalis)
14.  House Sparrow (Passer domesticus)
15.  Collared Dove (Streptopelia decaocto)
16.  Serin (Serinus serinus)
17.  Spotless Starling (Sturnus unicolor)
18.  Rock Dove (Domestic pigeon) (Columba livia)
19.  Green Sandpiper (Tringa ochropus)
20.  Black Necked Grebe (Podiceps nigricollis)
21.  Little Grebe (Tachybaptus ruficollis)
22.  Moorhen (Gallinula chloropus)
23.  Coot (Fulica atra)
24.  Cetti’s Warbler (Cettia cetti)
25.  Shoveler (Anas clypeata)
26.  White-headed Duck (Oxyura leucocephala)
27.  Mallard (Anas platyrhynchos)
28.  Pochard (Aythya ferina)
29.  Dartford Warbler (Sylvia undata)
30.  Chiffchaff (Phylloscopus collybita)
31.  Purple Gallinule (Porphyrio porphyrio)
32.  Common Snipe (Gallinago gallinago)
33.  Reed Bunting (Emberiza schoeniclus)
34.  Cattle Egret (Bubulcus ibis)
35.  Magpie (Pica pica)
36.  Marsh Harrier (Circus aeruginosus)
37.  Linnet (Carduelis cannabina)
38.  Crested Lark (Galerida cristata)
39.  Stonechat (Saxicola torquatus)
40.  White Wagtail (Motacilla alba alba)
41.  Kestrel (Falco tinnunculus)
42.  Goldfinch (Carduelis carduelis)
43.  Meadow Pipit (Anthus pratensis)
44.  Fan-tailed Warbler (Cisticola juncidis)
45.  Starling (Sturnus vulgaris)
46.  Jackdaw (Corvus monedula)
47.  Common Sandpiper (Actitis hypoleucos)
48.  Black Winged Stilt (Himantopus himantopus)
49.  Water Pipit (Anthus spinoletta)
50.  Greenfinch (Carduelis chloris)
51.  Blackcap (Sylvia atricapilla)
52.  Red-legged Partridge (Alectoris rufa)
53.  Lesser Short-toed Lark (Calandrella rufescens)
54.  Skylark (Alauda arvensis)
55.  Sardinian Warbler (Sylvia melanocephala)
56.  Little Owl (Athene noctua)
57.  Golden Plover (Pluvialis apricaria)
58.  Rock Bunting (Emberiza cia)
59.  Slender-billed Gull (Larus genei)
60.  Yellow-legged Gull (Larus michahellis)
61.  Audouin’s Gull (Larus audouinii)
62.  Greater Flamingo (Phoenicopterus roseus)
63.  Black Wheatear (Oenanthe leucura)
64.  Crag Martin (Ptyonoprogne rupestris)
65.  Gannet (Morus bassanus)
66.  Shelduck (Tadorna tadorna)
67.  Little Stint (Calidris minuta)
68.  Redshank (Tringa totanus)
69.  Greenshank (Tringa nebularia)
70.  Grey Heron (Ardea cinerea)
71.  Avocet (Recurvirostra avosetta)
72.  Sparrowhawk (Accipiter nisus)

1 comment:

  1. Richard,Hi Happy New Year, good write up and good to recognize some of the sites that you mention.