Friday, 19 April 2013

Saturday 13th April - Murcia Marathon

I was asked during the previous week if I wanted to take part as a team member of birders taking part in the SEO/Birdlife (Sociedad Español de Ornitologia - a sort of spanish equivalent to the RSPB) annual birdrace (maratón).  I have never taken part in this before although this was to be it's 12th annual edition, and I think the first time a team has entered from the region of Murcia.  The aim, as in any birdrace, is to see the maximum number of species in 24 hours, and is an enjoyable bit of fun if not taken too seriously (which we didn't, and just as well!).

So Saturday morning saw me meeting up at 8-20 with the other members of the team, José Navarro Leandro, Juan López Ruiz, Conrado Requena Aznar and Fernando Tomás on the cliffs at Cabo de Palos for a bit of seawatching to start with.  Here we got our first 10 species (Yellow-legged Gull; Audouin's Gull; Sandwich Tern; Common Tern; Cormorant; Shag; Razorbill; Balearic Shearwater; Gannet and Shelduck), but probably spent too much time there waiting for a couple more which we had to give up on (these being Cory's Shearwater and Great Skua).  The Common Terns were the first I'd seen this year.

From here we went over to the lighthouse gardens to look for 'small' birds, but as is certain to happen, there had been a big clear-out of birds, and hardly any of the birds seen there the day before could be found.  Here we had another 20 species (Pallid Swift; Swallow; Red-rumped Swallow; Spotless Starling; Blackbird; Sardinian Warbler; Subalpine Warbler; Common Redstart; Nightingale (heard only); Robin; Kestrel; Collared Dove; House Sparrow; Greenfinch; Crested Lark; Willow Warbler; White Wagtail; Little Egret; Rock Dove/Domestic Pigeon; Monk Parakeet).

Our next stop was al Calareona in Cabo de Palos where we hoped to pick up Blue Rock Thrush and Black Wheatear, but we drew a total blank with these.  However we did pick up another 7 species (Black-eared Wheatear; Northern Wheatear; Whinchat; Thekla Lark; Red-legged Partridge; Goldfinch and House Martin).  The Whinchat was another first of the year for me.

By now it was 11:30 and we were running late, so we decided to drop out the salinas of Marchamalo, as any birds seen there we had guaranteed at other sites.  BAD mistake - in birdwatching there's no such thing as a guarantee - and we missed out on Little Stint, Curlew Sandpiper and Grey Heron by not calling in there!

We moved further west around the Mar Menor, stopping momentarily in the 'campo' at Los Urrutias for a Little Owl and then at the Club Nautico at Los Urrutias where we picked up another 4 (Ringed Plover; Kentish Plover; Slender-billed Gull and Turnstone) and had Cattle Egrets flying over the road.

Heading slightly inland, we then called into the old sewage farm (EDAR) of El Algar.  Here we had one of the sightings of the day in the form of a Peregrine shoot over, putting up all the birds in the lagoons before disappearing, only to be refound later on the banks of a farm reservoir with a pigeon that it had obviously hunted.  On seeing us, it laboriously flew off with its prey to one of the electricity pylons nearby.
This was one of 15 new species for the day here, the others being Black Winged Stilt; Wood Sandpiper; Common Redshank; Spotted Redshank; Greenshank; Black-tailed Godwit; Common Snipe; Little Ringed Plover; Iberian (Yellow) Wagtail; Little Grebe; Southern Grey Shrike; Woodpigeon; Mallard and Fan-tailed Warbler (Zitting Cisticola).

Our next stop was back to the Mar Menor, opposite the 'marina de Carmoli' where we picked up 5 species (Common Scoter; Great Crested Grebe; Black Necked Grebe; Grey Plover and Stonechat), followed by the 'rambla de Albujon' and another 5 species (Great Reed Warbler; Reed Warbler; Marsh Harrier; Moorhen and Stone Curlew), the Great Reed Warbler being another first for the year for me.

It was by now getting on for 2pm, and so we decided to have lunch (in the form of a picnic) on the beach at 'El Mojón' by the salinas at San Pedro del Pinatar, calling by en-route at a ploughed field at the side of the road where the Collared Pratincoles can be seen.

At the side of the road, a Collared Pratincole

At El Mojón, while enjoying sandwiches wine and beer (as I said, we weren't taking things too seriously), we had a couple of small groups of Mediterranian Gulls fly over, and Little Terns and a single Spotted Flycatcher both species again being the first seen this year.  Back to the birdwatching after lunch, around the salinas we had another 7 species (Sanderling, Greater Flamingos, Black-headed Gulls, Woodchat Shrike, Avocets, Gull-billed Tern and Sand Martins).

While having lunch we were serenaded by this incredibly bright Stonechat

At the entrance to the salinas at San Pedro del Pinatar was this male Redstart

Our next stop was at some farm reservoirs in San Javier hoping for some heron species, but we drew a total blank on these, but picked up Turtle Doves, Coots and Linnets.

By now it was 5-30 and we had a fair few miles to cover, so we dashed over to the sewage farm at Alhama de Murcia for some ducks.  We only got two, these being Pochard and White-headed Duck, but while there we also picked up  Bee-eater, Cetti's Warbler and Common Swift.

By now at 18:40, we were seriously running out of time.  We had hoped to do both the Guadalentín river valley and Sierra Espuña, but  in the end decided to drop out the woodland birds at Espuña and spent the rest of the day in the Guadalentín valley until it started to get dark.  Here we DIDN'T see Roller which was a bird we had banked on - we knew they had arrived, but maybe they don't show themselves in the evening.  We did pick up another 9 species though, including some class ones, in the form of Calandra Lark; Short-tod Lark, Great Spotted Cuckoo, Spectacled Warbler, Black-bellied Sandgrouse, Magpie, Corn Bunting, Jackdaw and Little Bustard. The Cuckoo, Sandgrouse and Bustard were all new for the year for me.

 One of a few Turtle Doves seen during the day, this one in the Guadalentín valley
 A very nice bird to 'trip over', a male Little Bustard...
...and the same bird in flight

So all in all, a fun day out with a good crew, and 99 species under our belts - just couldn't squeeze out the 100!

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