Tuesday, 24 September 2013

Weekly Mar Menor area roundup - 16th - 24th September

Hi all,

Although I say that this is a roundup, I personally haven't been out as much this week, so this could be a short report!  No reports from the salinas at Marchamalo this entry, as the only times I've been past there, the water level's been too high for small waders - the only birds seen have been up to 12 Greater Flamingoes and 22 Grey Herons on the Cabo de Palos side, and on the Playa Paraiso side, the usual afternoon flock of gulls (Audouin's, Mediterranean, Black-headed and Slender-billed) and terns (Sandwich).

On Wednesday, 18th I managed an afternoon trip down to the 'saladares del Guadalentín'.  Things were much quieter there than of late, but I did manage to once again tie up with the three 'steppe' species of lark, with a flock of about 35 Calandras, plus other flocks of Short-toed and Lesser Short-toed's.  The Short-toed's are gathering together for their movement south, so anyone having problems with i.d.'ing the Lessers, give it another month and there shouldn't be a problem - there´ll only be Lessers there!  Other small birds seen were up to 8 Northern Wheatears, and a couple of Whinchats.

In the way of raptors, there was a group of 4 Marsh Harriers sat in a field, which lazily flew up as I approached to settle in other fields behind me.  I presume the hunt must have been successful that day, as all they were interested in was their after lunch siesta!  Not so for the group of 7 Lesser Kestrels seen, which were all over the place hunting dragonflies.

One of the Lesser Kestrels that were zapping about

I returned back to the Mar Menor area at about 6-30 (not because of the lack of birds, but because there appeared to be some very high storm clouds forming to the south and moving up to the saladares).  As there was still plenty of light, I had a look around the fields in El Algar and Los Urrutias, but only had a single female Marsh Harrier and heard a couple of Bee-eaters going over - possibly my last ones locally this year.

On saturday 21st, I had an early look at the salinas de San Pedro del Pinatar, but down at the 'El Mojon' area (where the Short-billed Dowitcher had been in the spring).  I thought that now that things have cooled down a bit, and there isn't so much disturbance, it was possible that there might be some waders about.  I was quite right, but the waders were a group of 12 Spotted Redshanks and 3 Common Redshanks, which on seeing me, were off to the opposite corner on the lagoon.  Other birds seen there were 3 Sanderling, 4 Greenshank and 4 Black Winged Stilts, and actually in the lagoon, around 300 Greater Flamingos and more than 20 Black Necked Grebes, plus Black-headed and Slender-billed Gulls.

One of the relatively common Spotted Redshanks seen that day

Round at the other side of the salinas, on the main road from the information centre, after watching a Kingfisher for a while, I bumped into a spanish birdwatching friend, Antonio Fernandez-Caro, and we checked out the lagoons along the road together. Again, nothing stunning, about 20 Black-tailed Godwits, 25 Dunlin, 3 juvenile Curlew Sandpipers, 9 Little Stints, 20 Sanderling plus the normal Ringed and Kentish Plovers and a Common Sandpiper.  Little Terns have obviously made their move south as we only saw 3 of them remaining on the walls of the lagoons, and nothing in the way of Black Terns.

Kingfisher, waiting for its breakfast to pass by

It was while we were along that road that I got a message from another birdwatcher who was at the encañizadas at the end of La Manga. He'd heard a strange wader calling in flight, and had managed to rattle off some photos of it, which he sent to me.  Although looking at the photos on my phone with all the glare wasn't ideal, I could see what he was getting at when he said what he thought it was.  I forwarded the photo on to various people who all came back saying they agreed - a Pectoral Sandpiper.  Well, that was where to go tomorrow decided!

 Seen, heard and photographed by Isidro Bartolomé,
only the second Pectoral Sandpiper for the region of Murcia

Antonio and I decided to have a look at the other side of the salinas, 'La Mota', where everyone goes and covers themselves in mud, but getting partway down there and seeing the number of people around disturbing the birds, we decided to give up and return.  We got far enough down to see the main flock of Black Necked Grebes, which I calculated at around 400 birds, but the only wader we saw was a single Little Stint!

On my way home from there, I called in to the beach at the 'Club Nautico'  in Los Urrutias on the Mar Menor, but here again there was a lot of disturbance, although there were 2 Bar-tailed Godwits there for a while, and on each of the anti-jellyfish net floaters, there seemed to be a tern.

The beach by the 'Club Nautico' at Los Urrutias

The next morning, Sunday 22nd, guess where I was.  Yes, you're right, at the encañizadas.  To birdwatch the encañizadas, you have to be there early, for a couple of reasons.  One is the doggy walkers who let their dogs off the lead which then proceed to flush everything in sight, and the other is that first thing, you have the sun behind you and no heat haze.  By about 11 there is a heavy heat haze making distant birds very difficult to see well.  I was hoping that the big flock of waders there might be on my side of the encañizadas.  But no, they were in the middle, just too far to be able to identify the smaller ones on an individual basis.  There were some over on my side (a couple of Dunlins and Little Stints) together with plently of larger waders - Black and Bar-tailed Godwits, at least a dozen Curlew and a single Whimbrel, Grey Plovers and Turnstones - and a minimum of 50 Little Egrets and 40 Grey Herons.  By now I'd been joined by more local birdwatchers, Antonio Fernandez-Caro, Isidro Bartolomé and Javi Palacios, and while going through the distant herons in the heat haze, I noticed some Spoonbills.  I couldn't see exactly how many, but eventually the group got up and started flying.  They did two or three circles over the encañizadas, and then headed off high south, towards Cartagena and beyond, ten birds in all.

 A couple of shots of the Spoonbills, on their way to shores further south

The only other birds we saw of note were a couple of adult Mediterranean Gulls in amongst a mixed group of Black-headed and Slender-billed Gulls, one of which had a red colour ring with white lettering on it, but again it was too far and the heat haze by now too strong to be able to read it.

Also of note was at first one, then a second, Kingfishers which perched on the overhead H.T. cables, occasionally dropping down to the pools beneath, and having the occasional arguement.

In the evening, the ANSE bird ringing group had arranged a roost ringing attempt for the Yellow Wagtail roost in the 'Arenal' on the Mar Menor next to Los Nietos.  I had gone down there the evening before to see how the roost was doing, and had seen 'only' around 300 birds, normally too small an amount to make the ringing effort worthwhile.  However, the ringing had been put off on several previous occasions for various reasons, so this time it was going ahead, come what may!

 Apart from 'only' 300 'flava' Wagtails, one of the few other birds seen the night before, a Whinchat

Well, as it happened things didn't turn out too badly.  Starting at 5-30 in the afternoon, three lines of nets were set up, and we started seeing  a few wagtails fly over from about a quarter to seven onwards.  Sunset was at just after 8, so we had the tape lures in place at 7 and decided to wait till all the movement had stopped, in the dark at about 8-30 before checking the nets.  Well, from where we had the ringing table set up we could see the birds coming into the roost, wave after wave.  In the end I estimated about 800, of which quite a few seemed to be going into the nets.  We started emptying the nets at around 8-30, and it took us until at least 10pm before they were empty.  With 4 people ringing continuously plus another two people scribing, it was just before 12 that the ringing finished - with 3 species ringed, 2 Sardinian Warblers, a single Fan-tailed Warbler and 288 'flava' Wagtails!  As is normal for the time of the year, the majority of these were juveniles, and so impossible to subscribe to a sub-species, but of the adults, the majority were 'flava' (Blue-headed) with a few 'flavissima' (UK Yellows).  Other birds seen there was a good passage of Red-rumped Swallows, with fewer Swallows, a couple of Swifts/Pallid Swifts  and while we were extracting birds, a Red Necked Nightjar flew around us, and a Night Heron was heard flying over.

 Sunset, and time to relax, with the nets by now set up.  
Time for beer and homemade lemonade (excellent stuff - thanks Angel!)
Later on, and ringing by now in full swing.  291 birds ringed in total

Finally, this morning, Tuesday 24th, before work I took a trip down to the encañizadas again. There were a few more small waders close, just Dunlin, Little Stint, Ringed and Kentish Plovers, plus 3 Black-tailed Godwits, a single juvenile Curlew Sandpiper, 15 Curlew and more than 40 Grey Herons.  Other noteworthy birds were a group of around 12 Red-rumped Swallows resting on the terrace wall of a house making the most of the early morning sun, and around 15 Cormorants in small groups, the first of the winter.

 Red-rumped Swallows early morning sun-bathing

Four of the Dunlin close enough to see well

And that's about it - this weekend I'm off for my annual visit to Tarifa and associated areas, so hopefully I'll have lots to tell in my next report.


Tuesday, 17 September 2013

Bring on the raptors!

Hi all,

As mentioned in previous blog entries, we are now at the peak time for raptors.  The best place in the Iberian peninsula for viewing raptors is Tarifa, just west of Gibraltar, where they can be seen literally in their thousands prior to crossing the Straits into Morocco.  Numbers seen in the region of Murcia are comparatively low compared to other regions, but this may just be due to lack of observers in the mountainous interior – the majority of birdwatchers here in Murcia appear to be coastal. This obviously doesn’t mean that we don’t get raptors on the coast, as the last week has proved.  There have been people watching at various locations within the Cartagena area, at Cabo Tiñosa, Roldan (Tentagorra, just south of Cartagena), and Monte Carmoli, next to Los Urrutias.  Although numbers haven’t been fantastic, there has been a good range of birds seen, including Marsh and Montagu’s Harriers, plenty of Sparrowhawks, Black Kites, Honey Buzzards, Ospreys, Peregrines (which may or may not be migrants) and a single Hobby.  But the most unusual bird has been a single Egyptian Vulture seen flying over Cabo Tiñosa.

Personally, I have been paying visits to the usual places – Cabo de Palos lighthouse garden early on the 11th, where the only birds of note were a Whimbrel , Robin, Swallow and three Sardinian Warblers followed by Marchamalo Salinas where I was pleased to see a Kingfisher fly rapidly across the road.

In the afternoon, I met up with Paul Sparkes at the saladares del Guadalentín.  We wanted to see if the Dotterel were still there, but we couldn’t check all the sites we know as the recent rains have left a lot of the tracks impossible to navigate.  We didn’t see the Dotterel this time, but don’t know if it’s because they weren’t there, or just that we couldn’t cover all the territory.  Birds that we did see included Whinchats, Northern Wheatears, a group of 40+ Short-toed Lark, Marsh Harrier, Tree Sparrow, Green and Common Sandpipers, Greenshank, a couple of Golden Eagles in the air together, Montagu’s Harrier, a group of 14 Bee-eaters passing through, a couple of Melodious Warblers, and the bird of the afternoon, a juvenile Black Kite.

 One of a couple of Melodious Warblers seen...

 ... and a juvenile Whinchat
 Overhead, an adult female Marsh Harrier...

... while flushed from a field, this juvenile Black Kite

On the evening of thursday the 12th, I got a message from a local birdwatcher, Isidro Bartolomé, to say that at the Salinas at Marchamalo, he had seen and photographed an unidentified ‘ringtail’ harrier.  He passed me the two photos he had taken, unfortunately only showing the upperside of the bird from behind.  I say unfortunately, as in the photo, a strong neck ring can be seen, together with a very small white facial mark, both things typical of Pallid Harrier!  However, the characteristics needed to confirm the identification (underwing pattern and close facial pattern) were not available.  I arranged to meet up with him and Tomás García the next morning at Marchamalo, in case the bird was still around.

 The 'ringtail' harrier - photo taken by and copyright of Isidro Bartolomé

The next morning bright and early saw me at the Salinas, but there was no sign of the bird (early autumn migrants seem to shoot through, unlike later ones that seem to stay a while and sometimes hang around all winter).  We had a look at all the fields we could find on either side of the RM-12 motorway, but without luck.  We then decided to have a look at Calblanque, as I’ve occasionally seen harriers hunting there.  Well, there were no harriers, but driving by Las Jordanas, the small collection of houses forming a little hamlet, we saw some raptors soaring, which turned out to be a young Bonelli’s Eagle, a Honey Buzzard and two Sparrowhawks.  We decided to hang around at Calblanque a little longer, and had another 5 Sparrowhawks, and a chevron of 12 Night Herons fly over.  Interestingly, all the Sparrowhawks appeared to be flying east, whereas all the others were moving west.

That afternoon, I had arranged to go ringing with the ANSE bird ringing group, at the EDAR, El Algar, as after the recent rains, there was a small amount of water in the lagoons.  Before I arrived though, I had a call from Tomás García to say that he’d found an Osprey which was eating a fish, on top of an H.T. pylon just outside El Algar.  It stayed long enough for me to get there and take a few photos, and we also saw around 20 Short-toed Larks and a single Marsh Harrier there.

 Adult Osprey...

 ... together with its takeaway

We then moved on to the nearby EDAR, where we noticed the electricity cables covered in Turtle Doves – Tomás counted them – more than 120!  We took a walk around the EDAR, but didn’t come across any waders except for a single Green Sandpiper and we heard several Stone Curlews.  The nets were duly erected, but as expected, the catch wasn’t great – a single Turtle Dove and a/the Green Sandpiper!  But while waiting outside the EDAR gates we did see some good birds – a female Marsh Harrier; more than 10 Stone Curlews flying about; and when it got dark a Long-eared Owl that landed on a solitary Cypress tree, then flew off, but later flew over the line of parked cars and over our heads; a brief glance of a Barn Owl, and finally a very rapid Red-necked Nightjar!

I only stayed until about 11 o’clock as I had arranged to go with Gabriel Lorenzo and Antonio Fernandez-Caro to the saladares del Gaudalentín (again) the next morning.  Gabriel had never been there before and wanted to know what the place was like.  We actually started the day at the nearby EDAR of Alhama de Murcia, getting there at about 11 a.m.  There was nothing too out of the ordinary there although the couple of Common Teal were the first I’ve seen there, and it’s always nice to see Purple Gallinule.  Also, a juvenile Woodchat Shrike got the heart pumping a bit until we confirmed that it wasn’t a Red-backed Shrike, and we decided that a group of 3 Kestrels nearby were in fact Lessers!

 At the EDAR Alhama de Murcia, we had a flock of roosting Cattle Egrets
but this was the only one to hang around to have it's photo taken

Going over to the saladares, we spent about 4 hours going up and down the tracks, and had some good sightings, although not the Dotterel that we were particularly looking for.  Amongst the birds seen were Golden Eagle, 3+ Marsh Harrier, Short-toed Eagle, 7+ Kestrels (none of which we could confirm as Lessers, although they may have been), 6+ Spectacled Warblers, 3 Northern Wheatears, Tree Sparrow, 8+ Turtle Doves, 2 more immature Woodchats, at least 18 Calandra Larks, 30+ Short-toed Larks and 50+ Lesser Short-toed Larks.

Coming back to the local area, we had a look around the fields at El Algar for the Osprey which had been seen again in the morning, but we couldn’t find it.  We had a look at the ‘desembocadura de la rambla de Albujón’ as this is a favorite area for Ospreys to feed when they are around, but again we were unlucky.  We did however have three adult Black Terns in moult in amongst a group of 12 or so Little Terns.  Finally, we had a look at the beach at Los Urrutias.  Again nothing special here, but the few waders that were there (including a very confiding Bar-tailed Godwit) allowed very close approach which we made the most of for taking photos.

 At the desembocadura, quite a group of juvenile Little Terns...

 ... while on the tideline at Los Urrutias, this male Ringed Plover...

 ... Bar-tailed Godwit...

 ... and Iberian Wagtail

On the floaters for the anti-jellyfish nets, a mixture of Common and Sandwich Terns

On Sunday 15th, I went to do my ‘raptor watch’ from Tentagorra.  I lasted 2 hours in the sun, heat and flies with no shade, but seeing absolutely nothing in the way of raptors, I gave up.  On my way home, I came by El Algar where I saw a/the Osprey soaring high over a farm reservoir.  Possibly a different bird to that seen the previous thursday, as there seems to be a distinct passage of these at the moment (some friends saw up to 4 individuals at El Hondo the same day).

 A record shot of the Osprey seen soaring high up over El Algar

In the afternoon, I called in at the Salinas at Marchamalo (but due to the suns position, this time on the Playa Paraiso side).  Again nothing too out of the ordinary here, but I did come across an old friend, a colour ringed Audouin’s Gull that was originally ringed as a nestling at the Punta de la Banya in Tarragona (Ebro delta) on the 19th June 1988, making it over 25 years old – the oldest known Audouin’s Gull ever!

 'ALU' - the oldest Audouin's Gull known, at more than 25 years

Some of the other gulls (and terns) in the same lagoon

From the Salinas, I carried on up the La Manga strip to the encañizadas at the end.  Here birds of note were 32 Grey Herons, 45 Little Egrets, a juvenile Bar-tailed Godwit and an adult winter plumaged Mediterranean Gull – but no sign of Great White Egret or Spoonbill, which must be due at any time.

Monday the 16th in the morning I had another look at Calblanque for raptors, but this time just had a single Sparrowhawk.

In the afternoon I had a look around the fields at El Algar again, and was lucky to come across an/the Osprey, plus a very nice male Marsh Harrier, a Common Buzzard hunting and a Booted Eagle.

 Osprey in hunting mode over a reservoir

 The same bird a little closer - note the broken underwing bar denoting a juvenile

 And a light morph Booted Eagle seen in the same area

  A later visit to the shoreline at Los Urrutias ha the same waders, except the Bar-tailed Godwit had gone.

 Ringed Plovers - a very macho male showing who's boss...

 ... and then coming up to investigate me

Whether they work or not, the anti-jellyfish net floats make a good roost for the terns
 - here an adult and juvenile Common Tern

And that’s all for now. 

Should you wish to keep more up to date with what’s being seen, look me up on ‘facebook’ under ‘Richard Howard’.


Tuesday, 10 September 2013

September 10th - local update

Hi all,

Since my last report on the 1st September, apart from there being various periods of rain and the weather in general cooling down, not much has been happening on the bird front locally.

My two normal places for viewing waders, San Pedro Salinas and Marchamalo Salinas have both got high water levels, either intentionally from water being pumped in, or from the rain, and apart from Avocets and Black Winged Stilts, waders have pretty much totally disappeared from Marchamalo.  There are still some around at San Pedro, but still in small numbers.  In San Pedro, the young of this year of Greater Flamingos have finally arrived in numbers, some forming their own flocks.

 In San Pedro, few waders - here a Black Winged Stilt,
a juvenile Curlew Sandpiper and a Kentish Plover all taking their siesta
 New arrivals at San Pedro are the juvenile Greater Flamingos...
 ... some forming their own small flocks

Returning from San Pedro salinas, I've still been calling into the farm reservoirs at San Javier, near to the airport, where there are still plenty of Black Terns passing through (but still no sign of White-winged Black!).

 During the week, up to 35 Black Terns have been present

 Adult birds have almost completely moulted out their breeding plumage
As the tourists have now left, it’s been worthwhile having a look at some of the beaches around the Mar Menor (checking out for waders, but also the first Spoonbills and Great White Egrets of the Autumn).  Of the latter two species there’s been no sign so far (although I haven’t got as far as the ‘Encañizadas’ at the end of La Manga Strip yet), but there have been a few Whimbrel and plenty of Ringed Plover through, and a friend had a juvenile Knot last week at the Los Urrutias Club Nautico – a species that doesn’t get seen too often in the region of Murcia.  All of these are waders that you’re more likely to see on the seashore rather than on the local ‘salinas’.

 A selection of waders seen at Los Urrutias last week - here an adult male Ringed Plover...

 ... winter plumaged Turnstone ...

 ... and a breeding plumaged Turnstone ...
 ... a confiding Whimbrel ...

 ... even closer ...

 ... and a moulting Common Sandpiper 

 Not all the birds on the shoreline are waders
 - here an adult male 'Yellow' Wagtail of the iberian race -
note the white chin

This is also the time of year when raptors start to be seen, and a group of us have started a regular raptor watch at some of the local coastal watchpoints (Roldan – Tentagorra, just to the west of Cartagena; Cabo Tiñosa, down towards Mazarron, and Monte Carmolí which is just to the west of Los Urrutias).  Since we started (3 weekends ago), the raptors have been few and far between, but we have high hopes for the last two weeks of September and beginning of October.  Migrant raptors seen so far have been Kestrel, Hobby, Peregrine, Sparrowhawk, Marsh Harrier, Honey Buzzard, Black Kite, Short-toed Eagle and Booted Eagle – which isn’t a bad species list, but the quantity of birds hasn’t been that high.

Tentagorra, where we do our raptor watching, with Monte Roldan in the background

 In three hours watching, our only raptor!  Well, there's always next week

Another of my favourite places that has been worth a look at recently are the ‘Saladares del Guadalentín’, the triangle of farmland between Alhama de Murcia, Totana and Mazarron.  Now that the weather’s cooled down a little from the summer highs with temperatures up to 40º+ centigrade, this is a place worth a morning or afternoon’s visit as long as it hasn’t been raining recently, (as many of the tracks are clay and it’s easy to get bogged down in it) – also you need to get the right day when there’s not too much being planted in the fields, and no hunting going on (i.e. not too much disturbance).  If you DO get the right day though, you can see plenty of raptors, with Marsh and Montagu’s Harriers, Golden, Short-toed, Bonelli’s and Booted Eagles, Honey Buzzards, Peregrine, Kestrel and Lesser Kestrel all having been seen recently, and it can’t be long before the first Common Buzzards, Hen Harriers and Ospreys show themselves. And over the last couple of weeks, there has been a mobile flock of Dotterel with up to 30 birds being seen, but you really have to chase around the fields for these.  I called in there last Wednesday together with Mick Brewer, and met up with Paul Sparkes who had located a flock of 12 Dotterel, which were very confiding, allowing a very close approach to them.  Raptors seen there were Booted Eagle, a couple of Marsh Harriers, a juvenile Montagu’s Harrier and Common Kestrels, and other birds of interest seen were a distant flock of 5 Black-bellied Sandgrouse, and flocks of Short-toed, Lesser Short-toed and Calandra Larks.

 Saladares del Guadalentín - typical Dotterel terrain

Same terrain - this time with the birds in question...

 ... and a couple of closer shots

 And now for something completely different! Green Woodpecker on a concrete post

Another place I visited this week was the EDAR (sewage farm) of Molina de Segura, known as Campotejar, just to the northwest of the city of Murcia.  I had been told that there was a juvenile White-winged Black Tern there with the Whiskered Terns the day before, but when I got there, there was no sign of it.  To make up for it though, I had six Whiskered Terns, five Squacco Herons, a single Little Bittern, three juvenile Night Herons, a female or juvenile Red Crested Pochard, and three male Ferruginous Ducks.

Last Saturday, being the first Saturday of the month, we had our monthly seawatch from the cliffs at Cabo de Palos.  Starting at 7-30 a.m., in theory the watch is for three hours, but passage was really slow and as it started raining heavily at around 9 o’clock, we gave up (not something you’d do in the U.K., but here in the southeast of Spain, we’re not used to birding in the wet!).  In the hour and a half spent watching, we only had around 20 Sandwich Terns, 15 Cory’s Shearwaters and a couple of Balearic Shearwaters, plus a Marsh Harrier a long way out to sea slowly flying south, and on the rocks where we watch from, a couple of female or immature Northern Wheatears.

On Sunday, after the 3 hours spent at Tentagorra with Diego Zamora looking for raptors (and seeing just a single Peregrine, plus a flock of 13 Night Herons!), on the way back home I called into EDAR at El Algar to see how the water levels were doing.  Although the gates were padlocked, looking through them I could see that there was quite a bit of water there from the recent rains, so it’ll be worth keeping an eye the place over the next few weeks as when there’s water there, it’s a good place for waders.  Coming away from there I saw a Gull-billed Tern which was flying around a farm reservoir, and I could hear a young one calling for food, so I presume they’d bred there.  The majority of the Gull-billed’s have gone but I suppose this is just a late nester (or second brood).

 Gull-billed Tern doing a circuit of a reservoir

I've also made a couple of early morning trips to the lighthouse garden at Cabo de Palos, but with very little to show for it.  On the sea, Sandwich Terns, Audouin's Gulls and Shag, and the only migratory passerines have been Red-rumped Swallows and a single Spotted Flycatcher.

On the fence at the lighthouse garden, a solitary Spotted Flycatcher

And that’s all for now.

Should you wish to keep more up to date with what’s being seen, look me up on ‘facebook’ under ‘Richard Howard’.