Monday, 25 February 2013

25th February 2013 - Mar Menor roundup

Hi all,

The past week has been notable for the cold and windy but sunny weather, with winds predominantly from the NW, which has presumably held up any migration.  After the first few summer migrants in my last report last week, there has been very little new movement.

On a national scale, Common Cranes (and a report of a Sandhill Crane) and geese have been moving north from their wintering locations in the south and west of Spain (do they know what they're letting themselves in for?), and the only movement of oncoming visitors has been a sprinkling of Great Spotted Cuckoos over the last weekend, one of which got as close as the 'Saladares del Guadalentín', Alhama de Murcia (thanks to Paul Sparkes for the report).

Otherwise, things have been pretty much 'as was'.  On a rare still, misty day on Sunday the 17th, I took a walk along the Mar Menor between Los Nietos and Los Urrutias, searching for the Richard's Pipit which I still hadn't seen this year yet.  As it was damp and foggy over the sea, there were neither kite-surfers nor fishermen along the shoreline, which allowed a group of 22 Red-breasted Mergansers come in and settle.  Made up of 2 males and 20 females, it's the largest group I've seen this winter, so I watched them until a jet-ski flushed them off.

Record shot of the group of 22 Red-breasted Mergansers that dropped in
I carried on looking for the Richard's Pipit, which I finally heard, and then saw (it's always in that order!).

Another record shot - this time of the Richard's Pipit

After the walk, I called in briefly to the sailing club 'club nautico' at Los Urrutias.  It was very quiet there with just a couple of egrets (Great White and Little) and a breeding plumage 'punk' Cormorant.

You get a good idea of size difference between Great White and Little Egret with this photo

Moving on past Los Urrutias/Punta Brava, I stopped off and saw both groups of Scoter that have been around for the last month or so.

 Record shot of Common Scoter seen in the mist - their facial pattern is just about viewable

Record shot of part of the group of Velvet Scoter
- at least you can see the white in the wings of one of them!
Later the same day, after going over to Calblanque with the vain intention of reading Audouins' colour rings (they'd put themselves right in the middle of the salinas, and I managed to read a few rings, but most were too far away), on the way out I was surprised to see a black bird on top of a disused electricity pylon.  As there's been a recent report of a Rook around Cartagena, I thought I'd stop for a look.  Well it wasn't a Rook, but a Chough and was joined by another.  Quite a surprising sighting for the area, although not unprecedented.

On a 'grey day' the only thing that stands out is the curved red bill

Other winter birds still about are the Common Gull (adult) in amongst the Audouin's Gulls (of which there were 416 on Saturday, 23rd) at the salinas de Rasall, Calblanque (Los Belones, Cartagena); 7 Common Scoter in the Mar Menor, two of which are now showing to be males (normally viewable from the shore of the Mar Menor at km.8 on the F-34, just west of Los Urrutias/Punta Brava (Cartagena)); the Red-throated Diver has also been seen from the same viewpoint up until Wednesday the 20th.  I looked for it over the weekend but couldn't find it - this doesn't mean it's not there as the waves were quite high in the winds, and as you're viewing from sea-level, it's not always easy to see.  However, as there seems to have been a departure of a large number of the Great Crested Grebes (of which there were over 600 counted the previous weekend), it could have attached itself to their group and headed off north.

 Part of the group of over 400 Audouin's Gulls - hard to think they were once on the brink of extinction

Also from the same watchpoint on Saturday I had two Great White Egrets fly over me - was it only 5 years ago that they were considered a local rarity!  Now in the winter it's rare NOT to see them somewhere along the beach from Los Urrutias to the 'desembocadura de la rambla de Albujon' (the corner where the Albujon river meets the Mar Menor).

 One of the two Great White Egrets that flew overhead

Talking of the rambla, the group of 6 Velvet Scoter are sometimes here where they show well, if distant.  As mentioned before, they can sometimes be seen from the shore at km.8 on the F-34, but if they're not there it's worth trying looking from the banks of the rambla (park at Km. 7 of the F-34, and from the shore look towards the Los Alcazares sailing club across the water.  They're normally in that corner).  Two of them are now showing to be males, with yellow/orange on their bills.

In the rambla itself, there are still Common Snipe and Green Sandpipers (but I haven't seen any Jack Snipe there recently), a single Ruff, Water Pipits and Water Rail, Reed Buntings and  Grey Wagtail.

The 'marina de Carmoli' (the large area opposite the lay-by at km.8 on the F-34) has been interesting of late because of the roost of harriers there.  I've spent a few evenings this last week waiting for them to appear and have been rewarded with sightings of at least 7 Marsh Harriers (with at least two males); two ringtail Hen Harriers and the overwintering first winter Pallid Harrier, of which I managed to get some record photos on Saturday evening just before the sun went down.

Although dark, these three record shots of the 1st winter Pallid Harrier show the diagnostic features
-head pattern; wide secondaries & narrow wingpoint; 'boomerang' around the carpal joint 

On sunday evening I went back down there, but only saw Marsh Harriers (being seriously harrassed by Yellow-legged Gulls) and a single 'ringtail' Hen Harrier, although as I left at ten to seven, I noticed what appeared to be a small harrier at the other end of the 'marina'.  I was in the car though, with the heater on, so I didn't stop to investigate (it was getting dark anyway).

 The gulls just wouldn't leave the harriers alone
- note this one defending itself by turning upside down, talons out
 Maybe this is why they're normally only seen in the evening... chance of getting a bite to eat when you're continually harassed!

And that's about it for what's about locally.  Hopefully the wind will soon go round to south and I expect we'll have a real rush of migrants in.

Talking of migrants coming in, some of you know that over the past few years I've spent some considerable time checking the area around the Cabo de Palos lighthouse in spring.  I always promised that at some time I'd do a report on the birds seen there, and I've finally done it.  Because of size constraints, I can't put in into this blog, so I've made it into a '.pdf ' file, so any of you who are interested in what you can see when at the lighthouse, follow this link:

(For this you need adobe reader)

That's all for now folks!!


  1. Gran trabajo, Richard. Felicidades!!!!

    Un saludo.

    Gabriel Lorenzo

  2. Gracias Gabriel - me cuesto algo hacerlo, pero creo que vale la pena!!
    Un saludo,
    Richard Howard

  3. Another excellent report, thank you. 11 days and counting and I'll be there :-)