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’.



  1. Buenas jornadas de observación de aves. Te agradezco, una vez más, haber quedado conmigo y visitar los saladares del Guadalentín, que ya tenía ganas de conocer. Y de conocer a Antonio también. Qué sigan las observaciones!!!

    Espero poder coincidir de nuevo el mes que viene.

    Un saludo,


  2. Hi Richard. I have tried finding you on Facebook under Richard Howard but there are so many to choose from and none apparently living near Cartagena. Can you give me your Facebook Username please. Your reports always worth reading.Maurice Clements.U.K.

    1. Hi Maurice,
      I'm very much a beginner on facebook, and don't even know how to get my own name to come up. However, going into FB at right pressing my name, 'Richard.Howard.3114' comes up, so give that a try!