What with bad weather and commitments, I didn't manage to get out this last week until Thursday 7th, when with overcast skies and a south-easterly breeze blowing, I took an early morning look at the lighthouse garden at Cabo de Palos.
Here, apart from the usually expected birds, new in were a male Spectacled Warbler seen briefly, a female Blackcap, and on the rocks at the base of the lighthouse, a single Whimbrel.
On the rocks below the lighthouse itself, a Whimbrel
The beach area at Punta Brava (from Los Urrutias, take the last right turn before leaving Punta Brava) occasionally has a few waders, especially around the pools that have formed next to the breakwater, and here I had a couple of Cormorants resting up, together with Turnstones, Dunlin and Ringed Plover, together with singles of Black-headed and Slender-billed Gulls, both adults and looking resplendent in their respective breeding plumages. Out on the Mar Menor, a large group of Black-necked Grebes many of which are also now in their breeding plumage, and a single Great Crested Grebe.
I always find these Cormorants in their breeding plumage quite comical
As I parked up at the 'desembocadura' I noticed a group of ducks flying west into the bay area, black with flashes of white, so getting the 'scope out I got onto them - the group of 6 Velvet Scoter that have made this area their home for the past month or so now. Also in the bay were more Great Crested Grebes (15 of them), Black-necked Grebes (25), and from the rambla the group of Coot (today only 6) that scuttle for the open water whenever anyone goes up the rambla. On the sandbar across the rambla mouth were 14 Cormorants which also made a mad dash for the water.
Absolute panic sets in whenever Cormorants are caught out unawares
I walked up the rambla as far as the N-332 road bridge and had a look at the other side, but as they skies by now were looking threatening and I didn't want to get caught in a shower, I decided against walking the rambla. From the bridge there were a couple of Water Pipits, a Grey Wagtail and a single ale Bluethroat amongst the smaller birds, and a group of 14 Black Winged Stilts, 2 Common Snipe and a Green Sandpiper made up the waders to be seen.
The following day, Friday the 8th March, as there had been showers overnight but it was beautifully cloudless morning, I again went to the lighthouse garden at Cabo de Palos. If the floodgate for migrants hadn't opened, at least it had been cracked slightly. There were birds everywhere - not necessarily what you might think of as migrants as many winter here - but they were migrants nonetheless. My final tally after wandering around for an hour and a half was: Robin - 3; Sardinian Warbler - 11; Hoopoe - 3; Black Redstart - 23; Blackbird - 8; Chiffchaff - 20; Greenfinch - 2; Songthrush - 11; Meadow Pipit - 2; Swallow - 1; Spectacled Warbler - 1; Serin - 5; Crag Martin - 2; Red-rumped Swallow - 1, plus out to sea, a single Gannet and Audouin's Gull.
Not particularly common on passage, but a few Meadow Pipits are seen most years at the gardens
I'm not the only one eager for spring passage to start!
The first decent passage day brought many Black Redstarts
On the way back to Los Belones, I called in briefly to the 'Marchamalo salinas' (saltpans of La Manga, behind the go-kart track). Here now, the water levels are very high, and the only birds of note were a group of 21 Greater Flamingos new in.
In the afternoon, as it was a bright, although by now breezy, afternoon I called in to the rambla de Albujon again. At the desembocadura, a surprise bird was a Little Grebe - although common in the farm reservoirs, it's unusual to see them on the Mar Menor. Also there, the Cormorants, Coots and Great Crested Grebes, and a Kingfisher.
Once again, one of the 'punk' Cormorants
Common over the last month or so, Great Crested Grebes...
... whereas much more unusual, this Little Grebe
On passage at the moment, Black Winged Stilts...
... whereas Coots used to be much more common over the early part of the year
Always present over the winter, at least one Kingfisher
I walked the rambla de Albujon as far as the AP-7 motorway bridge, and sat down there for half an hour in the hope I might see a Spotted Crake (which I didn't). However I did see my first Sand Martin of the year and a couple of House Martins and 4 Swallows in amongst the Crag Martins. Other birds of note were 6 Common Snipe and a Jack Snipe, Water Pipit, 3 species of wagtail (White, Grey and Iberian) and Fan-tailed Warblers (or Zitting Cisticolas if you prefer) singing their hearts out in the breeze.
On Saturday 9th, I went inland around Fortuna but the only birds of note were a single Crested Tit, a couple of Dartford Warblers singing, Chiffchaff singing and various Crested/Thekla Larks (seen at the sides of the road, so I couldn't stop to i.d. them), and a large band of Jackdaws.
Not that they're particularly rare, but it's not that frequent that they're so photogenic...
... and Crested Tits aren't so easy to photograph either, as they're normally in the shade
Coming back in the afternoon, I decided to call in to the salinas at San Pedro del Pinatar, as I hadn't been there for quite a while. Here I saw all the usual birds (Greater Flamingo, Shelduck, Mallard, Black Winged Stilt, Avocet, Redshank, Spotted Redshank, Black-tailed Godwit, Turnstone, Little Stint, Sanderling, Black-necked Grebe, Little Egret), and a couple of distant Spoonbills. I sat by the entrance to the salinas for a while and was rewarded with seeing a Kingfisher going to and fro across the road several times, and a group of four Penduline Tits which came to the reeds close to where I was sitting.
Almost at the roadside was a Black-tailed Godwit feeding in the reeds
The canal that surrounds the salinas is always worth a look - this time a Redshank
Sitting quietly pays off - here a record shot of a Penduline Tit
I had intended to go home via the 'Marina de Carmoli' to see how the harrier roost was doing, but I bumped into someone who told me that at the beach end of the salinas, he had seen some wheatears, so I decided to take a look. Sure enough, from the wooden boardwalk that runs from the car park where the never-open information centre is, I first saw one, then two wheatears, but they were male Black-eared, not what I had expected. Then, while watching them, a male Northern Wheatear popped out of no-where! I don't know what it is - probably has something to do with birding in the UK, but I always feel that spring migration is REALLY here when I see my first Wheatears, although they're rarely the first migrants I see nowadays. Anyway, male Black-eared Wheatears - always nice to see in their spanking plumage!
Down at the beach at last knockings - a record shot of male Northern and Black-eared Wheaters
... and here the Black-eared Wheatear joined by another...
... here a closer view of one of them
So guess where I was on Sunday morning! I spent 2 hours there, taking over 1,000 photos and a couple of videos, (not all of them were of the Dowitcher) but I'm still not sure whether the bird's a Long-billed or Short-billed Dowitcher, although I do now err on the side of Short-billed. (I've also sent photos to various people to comment, but am getting mixed replies). So, if you know your waders, have a look at the photos and let me know! (By the way, although I spent 2 hours with the bird yesterday morning, it didn't once call, which is a real shame!).
Here the object of the exercise - the Dowitcher with a Sanderling to give an idea of size
Not all my time was spent photographing the Dowitcher - here an adult, breeding plumage Mediterranean Gull
... and here a Turnstone...
... here the Med. Gull amongst a group of Slender-billed Gulls..
... and here, one of those Slender-billed Gulls in close-up
Meanwhile, back at the subject of the exercise, the dowitcher with Sanderlings, showing it's marked breast...
... another of it, this time in flight...
... and this time, when it came close...
... together with some of the other waders...
... and another of it in flight
Meanwhile in other parts of the salinas, this breeding plumage Black-tailed Godwit
After spending most of Sunday afternoon sorting out the photos taken in the morning, I took a quick look again at the Cabo de Palos lighthouse garden, spurred on by the appearance of the wheatears in the afternoon at San Pedro. It was very quiet here though, although there were still quite a few (8) Black Redstarts about, and definitely more (7) Stonechats than normal.
And that's about all - the birds are coming in, still slowly at the moment, and the weather forecast for the rest of the week isn't brilliant, but what the hell it's springtime and anything could turn up!