The weather over the last week seems to have finally settled, although on Friday night we had a short period of heavy rain, and since then temperatures have been much lower than in the preceding week. The wind has generally been light, picking up in the afternoons, generally from the northwest, although yesterday (Tuesday) it backed round to southwest.
On Wednesday 3rd April, I managed to get out into the field for the whole afternoon, and decided to go to the old sewage farm at El Algar (still hopeful for my Garganey) and San Pedro Salinas (just in case the dowitcher might have re-appeared).
Although you can normally only view the EDAR (sewage farm) at El Algar through the gates, I had a stroke of luck in that the area was being worked on, and I was invited in to check over the lagoons. In the first lagoon to the left of the entrance track there was a good level of water (although this is evaporating fast), and peering through all the weeds that have sprung up, I counted good numbers of waders, including 25 Black Winged Stilts, 5 Redshank, 5 Green Sandpipers, 6 Wood Sandpipers (the first I’ve seen this year), at least 6 Little Ringed Plovers which were trilling away in courtship displays, 2 Common Snipe and 2 Greenshanks. Other birds seen were 2 pairs of Shelduck and 8 Mallard, a couple of Tree Sparrows (the first time I’ve seen them here this year – I was beginning to wonder if they’d been killed off by the Winter), Swallows, Swifts and a single Southern Grey Shrike, plus White and Iberian Wagtails.
I stayed at the EDAR longer than I’d anticipated (I didn’t want to waste the opportunity of going in the EDAR), so I was late getting to San Pedro. I shouldn’t have worried too much – it was fairly quiet there, best birds being 4 Ruff (1 Ruff and 3 Reeves), and 3 Spotted Redshanks about halfway into their breeding plumage.
As things were so quiet, I left there early so as to have time for a short walk along the rambla de Albujon, back towards Los Urrutias. Here things were also quiet, but I did hear a single Reed Warbler in the reedbeds and a distant Quail, and walking up the rambla, put up 4 Common and a single Jack Snipe.
Lastly, I called in alongside the Mar Menor at the km.8 layby, to see if there were any Common Scoters still about. There were, four females quite close in plus 23 Great Crested Grebes, some paired off and performing their courtship ritual, which is always good to watch. Coming back to my car, on the actual ‘marina de Carmoli’ (which is the waste area and reedbeds on the opposite side of the road) there were two female/immature Marsh Harriers quartering the reedbeds, and I saw something else fly up which attracted the attention of some Yellow-legged Gulls there and which they chased over towards the Mar Menor, where I was – a Short-eared Owl. It flew up high then started crossing the Mar Menor, but obviously thought better of it as it circled round and returned, and I last saw it disappearing over the back of the reedbed. And my last record of the day, on my way home, sat on the roof of an abandoned building, a Little Owl.
On Friday 5th April, on an early morning walk around the Cabo de Palos lighthouse gardens, I was joined by José Antonio Cañizares Mata from Albacete who was spending a few days here by the seaside. As is normal when you have someone with you, there was no great fall of birds, and the best we managed were a couple of Chiff/Willows, a single Woodchat Shrike, a female Northern Wheatear and 3 Swallows, and out at sea two Shags (adult and juvenile) sat on rocks. It was pretty much the same at the Salinas of Marchamalo, apart from a group 13 Little Stints and a group of 27 Greater Flamingos which were there when we arrived but flew off heading north shortly after.
On Saturday 6th April, being the first Saturday in the month, we had our ‘RAM’ census (three hours from 8-30 till 11-30 sat on the end of Cabo de Palos counting seabirds and sea mammals). It was pretty cold to start with – we even needed gloves – but gradually got warmer as the day progressed. The birds seen were nothing too out of the ordinary (Cory’s Shearwaters, Balearic Shearwaters, Gannets, Audouins Gulls, Sandwich Terns, four Great Skuas and a couple of Razorbills, plus a Peregrine Falcon that came in across the sea, and a continual movement of Swifts – those that I could i.d. were all Common Swifts), and I had time to take a quick walk around the lighthouse gardens (to be honest, it was more to warm up than actually look for birds!). Here I had a splendid male Blue Rock Thrush, 2 Woodpigeon (strange to say, I think the first I’ve ever seen here), a Whimbrel, the back ends of two Nightingales as they shot into bushes, and the normal Sardinian Warblers, Blackbirds, Spotless Starlings, Collared Doves and House Sparrows. I went back to the census on the cliffs and after we finished and were walking back to our cars, I saw a largish (as in larger than a sparrow, but smaller than a Blackbird) bird with white wing flashes and white on its tail. It flew up into one of the post plants (the succulents that after 7 years produce a ‘post’ with seed pods that you see everywhere here). It was a way off and I could have done with getting my ‘scope on it, but as a couple of people were about to walk past it and I knew that they would flush it, so I had to make do with bins. As it flew I could see that the white was a band around the tip of the tail – a very strange location for the bird, but a Hawfinch nonetheless! We went round to where the bird had appeared to fly to, but couldn’t re-locate it, just having a very bright male Common Whitethroat instead.
The male Blur Rock Thrush on the cliffs at Cabo de Palos
On Sunday, 7th April, I had arranged to go with José Antonio to the ‘Arenal’ at Los Nietos (the area between Los Nietos and Los Urrutias), to look for the Richard’s Pipit. Here I’m glad to see that wooden posts have been put up to restrict vehicular access to the beach (although I’m not sure that they’ll last), which should curb the breaking down of the dunes. Due to the rain that we had on Friday night, the large ‘mud’ areas were now shallow lagoons, and approaching the first one, we were amazed by the sight of an adult Common Crane in flight, being chased by Yellow-legged Gulls. We followed this in our bins, and then I heard a Whimbrel call and located this, together with another two later on. Walking along the beach, we had good views of a Richard’s Pipit, and later saw a different individual and heard a possible third. Other birds seen were a female Stonechat, 4 Greenshank, literally hundreds of Swifts, a group of 5 ‘flava’ Wagtails, a female Woodchat Shrike, Willow Warbler and we heard a Quail calling distantly.
The Common Crane being harrassed by Yellow-legged Gulls
José had to leave for family duties, but I carried on birdwatching, stopping off first at the Club Nautico at Los Urrutias, where I just had a single Greenshank, Little and Great White Egret, and then at the Mar Menor ‘marina de Carmoli’ (km.8 on the F-34 road), where I again had the 4 female Common Scoters, 18 Great Crested Grebes, 2 Black-necked Grebes, Grey Plover, 18 Turnstone and looking along to the ‘desembocadura de la rambla de Albujon’ I could see a further two Little Egrets and another single Great White Egret.
My next stop was the ‘ramble de Albujón’ itself where I keep hoping to see Spotted Crake, but I think this year it’s not going to happen – I’ve normally seen them by now. Apart from 12 Black Winged Stilts, 2 Common Snipe and Green Sandpiper in the rambla and House Martins, Swallows and Red-rumped Swallows flying about over it, notable birds were a now breeding plumaged Water Pipit, and a single Reed Warbler singing from the reeds.
A general view of the rambla
My next stop was again at the old sewage farm (EDAR) at El Algar. After the rain on Friday evening, there was a good layer of water, and from the gates I could see 32 Black Winged Stilts, 3 Green and 12 Wood Sandpipers, 6 Little Ringed Plovers, 2 Common Snipe, Redshank and Greenshank, and purring away from a palm tree, my first Turtle Dove of the year.
A couple of general views over the EDAR El Algar
And some of the birds there - top, Green and Wood Sandpipers, below, 2 Wood Sandpipers
Moving on again, I drove up to the Salinas at San Pedro del Pinatar. I started at the main port road checking the lagoons on either side, but the only out of the normal birds were a group of three Cattle Egrets on one of the mud banks. Bumping into Mark and Tracy Powell, we all went round to the El Mojón area of the Salinas as Mark wanted to see where the dowitcher had been seen. Here we almost had heart attacks – one of the first birds we saw, flying with a Redshank was a light grey wader flying away from us, with a lightly barred dark and white tail – could it be the dowitcher returned? Well after chasing it down and finally getting the bird on the deck, we could see it wasn’t – it was a winter plumaged Knot! Quite a rarity itself but not up to dowitcher standards! Mark stayed for a while but I hung around much longer to try and get some photos of the Knot, and managed to get a few.
Here, the Knot...
... and again, with a Sanderling...
... and here with a Common Redshank
Some of the waders seen during the afternoon:
Male Kentish Plover
Some of the many Black Winged Stilts, that were continually fighting
Spotted Redshank - now you can see why it's called 'Spotted'!
Ruff, Black-tailed Godwit and Spotted Redshank
The Ruff as it flew off
Sanderling checking out the sky for predators...
... as was this Turnstone
The solitary Collared Pratincole
Yesterday, Tuesday 9th April I had another look at the lighthouse gardens at Cabo de Palos – in fact I had two looks, once early in the morning, and as I was in the area, I returned for the last couple of hours of daylight. In the morning there weren’t many birds about but with the wind picking up from the southeast I thought it would be worth a look later. Migrants seen in the morning were Nightingale, Black-eared Wheatear (male, black masked form), 5 Northern Wheatear, 2 Willow Warbler, Subalpine Warbler, Woodchat Shrike (female), a Hoopoe in off the sea, Swallows, Red-rumped Swallows, a group of 7 Little Egrets through and 3 Night Herons flying around the lighthouse. Another unusual bird was a male Great Tit which was moving all over the gardens, singing like crazy.
The group of seven Little Egrets that passed by heading north
The male black cheeked Black-eared Wheatear
By no means common, this Great Tit was covering the whole gardens, singing its head off
The standard Northern Wheatear...
... and another
Out to sea, and quite noisy, three Night Herons
One of the blue-grey backed Northern Wheatears that we seem to get each year
This female Common Redstart was quite showy...
...unlike her mate
This Night Heron seemed to be genuinely lost...
... and finally settled on the cliffs
Another shot of the blue-grey Northern Wheatear...
... look, no hands!
And finally, another of the afternoons' Northern Wheatears
And that’s about it for the week, so until my next entry, happy birding!!