Tuesday, 19 November 2013

It feels like winter!!

Hi all,

Over the last week, winter finally and definitively seems to have set in!  Single figure temperatures overnight and only reaching 15 - 20º during the day - for us that's cold - the shorts are stowed away for next year!

So what impact has this had on the birdlife in Murcia?  Well, just over a week ago, after heavy NW winds, a couple of people had the magnificent sight of a group of 48 Common Cranes flying over their heads.  Although not mega-rare in Murcia (ones and twos are seen most years), to see such a large flock IS.  Presumably they were on their way south from over the Pyrenees and got blown off course.

More regular birds are the Common and Jack Snipes that get into the 'rambla de Albujon'.  Last winter a special effort was made by the ringers of ANSE (Associación de Naturalistas del SurEste) to catch and ring them but also putting special location devices on them, and over the last couple of weeks, one of the Jack Snipe has been re-captured.  The device has been changed for another, and we are now waiting with much interest for the information to be downloaded, as it should give details of where the bird has been during the summer.  

Other winter birds seen locally (Sierra Espuña) have been groups of Ring Ouzels, that spend their winters here.  These seem to be of both sub-species, coming from both the north of Europe (UK, Scandinavia), and also the Alps.  The first Alpine Accentors have also been seen, in the area of Peñas Blancas, between Cartagena and Mazarron.

There have also been reports of auks and scoters streaming into the Mediterranean through the straits of Gibraltar, and this weekend a single Common Scoter was reported in the Mar Menor, towards the Tomás Maestre port area.

In the way of small birds, Black Redstarts and White Wagtails seem to be everywhere, and there's hardly a bush that doesn't seem to have the 'tack-tack'ing of a Robin coming from it first thing in the morning.  (OK, that's a slight exaggeration, but there ARE a lot about).

Over the last weekend (Saturday, 9th November to be precise), I thought it was time to have a look at some woodland.  Normally when I think of that, I head for Espuña, but I decided on this day to have a look at the area behind the La Manga Club west course, towards Portman (Monte de las Cenizas).  Here there is a very popular walk up to the guns (not pop-guns, but 15 inch guns which were capable of shooting a 1,000kg shell up to 35 km!), but by keeping off the main trail, it is actually possible to walk around without cycles zooming past, and people and children shouting.  The birds I was particularly looking for here were crests - I wasn't fussed, they could be Gold or Firecrests and a Yellow-browed Warbler wouldn't go amiss either.  Of course, it didn't happen, and the most numerous bird seen was Long-tailed Tit followed by Wren!  A little note about the Wren - living here in the S.E. of Spain, I can totally appreciate why it is now called Winter Wren, as it's the only time of year to see it here, if at all.  So to hear half a dozen in the space of a few hundred metres is quite something (although you do have to be careful not to confuse the alarm call of Sardinian Warblers for Wren).

 The most commonly seen bird, Long-tailed Tit

 Normally very secretive, this Wren showed itself for a few seconds

Other birds seen during a 2 hour wander were Sardinian Warbler (of course), wintering Dartford Warblers and Chiffchaffs, and a few Greenfinches.

 In the more open areas, there are both Dartford ...

... and Sardinian Warblers

The same morning I was searching for crests, some other people were out at the Arenal between Los Nietos and Los Urrutias on the Mar Menor, and the word came out - at last, three, possibly four Richard's Pipits.  Better late than never!  So my afternoon in the chill sunshine (just because it's cold and winter doesn't mean we can't have clear skies!) was spent trying to get some photos of them.  In the end, I managed a single record shot into the sun, but I think it's identifiable.  A word of warning for anyone thinking of looking for the Richard's Pipits - make sure you know its call before you try (a sharp quite loud House Sparrow-like 'shreeep').  My normal finding method is to walk around in the grass growing on the dunes until I hear a bird, then follow it with binoculars to see where it goes down, then approach with care.  They are normally quite flighty and tend to fly quite a distance before setting down again, so you need lots of patience.

 The best I could manage of one of the Richard's Pipits

 Also common in the winter, Stonechat

Last Saturday (16th November) I spent most of the day around  the salinas of San Pedro del Pinatar.  Not that I had intended to spend so much time there, but after a visit to the El Mojon (north) side of the salinas, I went to the lagoon close to the marina to see if there was anything of interest there.  Presumably the cold weather has pushed a lot of Little Stints into the area, as there were easily 40+ birds there, including a very interesting colour ringed bird.  It had a pink ring over the metal ring on its left leg, and a long yellow ring with three letters in black on its right leg.  When I first saw it, it was so far off that I could only just make out that it was ringed.  It was pretty flighty, very aggressive towards other waders (chasing off Ringed Plovers, Sanderling, Dunlins and other Little Stints), tended to wade about up to its belly in the water, and after about 3 hours waiting I finally saw it well enough that I could make out ONE of the letters!  After which it flew off. I'd had enough and was hungry so went home for lunch/tea!  So if anyone's over at San Pedro in the near future, keep an eye out for the bird and let me know if you see it (and if you can read the ring, even better!).

Some of the birds seen during the morning at San Pedro

 Meadow Pipit

Grey Wagtail ...

 ... and another of the same bird

Ruff ...

 ... and a different Ruff


 Winter plumage adult Slender-billed Gull

 Flock of Serins

Part of the same flock

Record shot of the colour ringed Little Stint

Common Redshank

 Mixed group of Sanderling and Little Stint

More Little Stints

 Sanderling with a Little Stint that seemed to have its tail permanently stuck up in the air ...

 ... as these photos show ...

... and again

 Spotted Redshank

San Pedro wouldn't be San Pedro without its Flamingos! ...

 ... or indeed its Black Winged Stilts - here a juvenile

At the moment there's a fair smattering of Ruffs

Sunday I kept a little more local, having a look in some farm reservoirs, the old sewage farm at El Algar and having a wander along the 'rambla de Albujon' to see if the cold weather had done anything to the local birds.  Farm reservoirs (if accessible) are worth a look in at this time of year for the ducks they might contain, and indeed one I looked at had a flock of 110 Common Pochard, 3 male Ferruginous Ducks and a male Pochard/Ferruginous hybrid in it, so I felt I'd hit the jackpot.

 Part of the flock of Common Pochard ...

... which also held three of these very smart male Ferruginous Ducks ...

 ... plus a smart looking male Pochard/Ferruginous hybrid, seen here with a female Common Pochard ...

... and here with a male Common Pochard

The old sewage farm was much quieter - no waders although there was still a little bit of water in it from the last rains, a couple of Booted Eagles circling in the distance, a couple of Skylarks flew over, a single Hoopoe and a couple of Southern Grey Shrikes.

My main reason for the walk up the 'rambla de Albujon' was to see if I could find any Penduline Tits, and to try and photograph Bluethroats.  Well there was no luck with the Penduline's although I did have a couple of Reed Buntings (sound very similar), plus the Cetti's and Fan-tailed Warblers, and I drew a blank with the Bluethroats, but that may have had something to do with the 4 trials bikes that were noisily all over the area.

Out on the Mar Menor, I checked for scoter, but just had Cormorants, Great Crested and Black Necked Grebes.

And that's about it for the moment, so until my next report, good birding!!


Monday, 4 November 2013

Local area catch-up – 18th Oct. to 3rd November

Hi all,

It’s been a while since I last wrote, so here is a catch-up on my outings over the last couple of weeks.

In my last report, I mentioned about going ringing on the 18th at the wagtail roost in Los Nietos.  Well we spent a few hours there but there were no sign of any wagtails!  However, we (myself and the ANSE ringing group) did manage to catch a few birds, including a few Fan-tailed Warblers (or Zitting Cisticolas if you prefer), a Bluethroat, Sardinian Warblers, a Chiffchaff and four very late Reed Warblers, so although we didn’t get the numbers, we did get a variety of birds, and for Mick and Darren who came along to see their first ringing session, a good introduction.  I also had time to have a look for Richard’s Pipits, but there was no sign – the weather was probably still not ‘wintery’ enough for them.

A couple of the birds ringed - here a Reed Warbler...
... and a Fan-tailed Warbler (or Zitting Cisticola if you prefer) - photos by Darren Brewer
The following day I went with Mick and Darren to El Hondo in the neighboring region of Alicante.  I hadn’t been there since the spring and was hoping to see some winter birds.  We hadn’t booked in to do the ornithological walk from the North gate, and so just kept to around the information centre area.  There are several hides around here now, so unless you’re particularly looking for a Spotted Eagle, there isn’t so much need to go into the ‘by appointment only’ area at this time of year.  Arriving at the information centre just after 9 am., we found that due to lack of funds, the information centre is no longer open on a Saturday!  We had a look in the pool at the side of the centre, where the ‘tame’ Crested Coots are, and saw four Purple Gallinules there (it has to be the easiest place in Spain to see them), plus Common Coots and Moorhens, Little Grebes, and had about 50 Swallows flying about over the area, and we also had a flock of ten Glossy Ibises go over.  Continuing our walk to the ‘new’ hides, we were impressed by the numbers of Bluethroats many of which were perching and calling from a fence dividing the reserve from some farmland.  Too far to photograph, but seen through the ‘scopes, there were several bright males on the fence.  Other birds seen were a single Lapwing, Stonechats, Hoopoes, Fan-tailed Warblers, Southern Grey Shrikes and Meadow Pipits.

 A plan of the park

 Picnic area and hide overlooking the small lake at the side of the information centre

 The small lake at the side of the information centre

 Two of the most emblematic birds on the lake, a colour-ringed Crested Coot...
... and a Purple Gallinule (or Swamphen)

A flypast by a group of ten Glossy Ibises
Both the ‘new’ hides overlook lakes, one facing east and the other west.  Due to the sun, light conditions on the east facing one weren’t too good – we could see Mallard, Pochard, Little and Black-necked Grebes, a few Flamingos, Green Sandpiper, Common Sandpiper and could hear Cetti’s Warblers, but could make out very little else.  From the west facing hide however, there was a much greater variety of ducks, including Shoveler, Gadwall, Red-Crested Pochard, and quite a surprise considering the mild weather, four Wigeon.

 One of the more recently added hides...

 ... and the view from within - Coots, Gadwall, Red Crested Pochards and Wigeon

Walking back to the information centre, I heard some Penduline Tits calling and so we waited, and eventually they showed themselves.  A minimum of four birds, two males and two females which we watched for about five minutes.

Back at the centre, we had our ‘elevenses’ in the picnic area, and had a Great White Egret fly over.  After eating, with things warming up and our time now limited, we went round to the South gate where birds of interest were a Sparrowhawk and a Squacco Heron skulking in the reedbed.  From the South gate we took a little driving safari looking for flooded fields, which we didn’t find, but did see a few more raptors – three Booted Eagles and a single Common Buzzard which was chased off by one of the Booted’s.

 At the South Gate, a Sparrowhawk was circling higher and higher...

 ... and a Booted Eagle was keeping watch

 Meanwhile in the reedbed by the gate itself, this Squacco Heron showed itself momentarily


 Sequence of the Booted Eagle driving off a Common Buzzard

We drove through to our last stop of the day, the salinas at El Pinet (La Marina) where there are good numbers of breeding birds in the summer (Little, Common, Sandwich, Gull-billed and Whiskered Terns, Slender-billed Gulls, Collared Pratincoles, Black Winged Stilts, Kentish Plovers and Avocets), but at this time of year there’s much less around and we saw just a half a dozen Black Winged Stilts, Redshank, two Shelducks and a dozen or so Flamingos!

 The 'El Pinet' salinas area in La Marina
On monday, 21st October I went down to the sailing club at Los Urrutias as I'd noticed that although most of the bigger waders (such as Bar-tailed's) had gone, there was still a Common Sandpiper hanging around close to the road, so I thought I'd try to photograph it.   It turned out to be the only wader there, and I managed a few photos of it before it was scared off by a dog.

 With the beach all to itself (apart from a dog), a Common Sandpiper

Tuesday 22nd October started with heavy fog around Los Belones, so I thought the lighthouse garden at Cabo de Palos might be worth a look at.  Once I got there though, there was very little to see, just a couple of Crested Larks, four Sardinian Warblers, a Robin, plus the usual Collared Doves and Spotless Starlings.  Slightly unusual was to hear a Dartford Warbler.

Having heard of so many Yellow-browed Warblers in various parts of Spain over the last week, on Wednesday 23rd I specifically went out in the afternoon to see if I could find any of these ‘sprites’, checking the Tamarisks and Pines in Calblanque, and later at the Salinas at Marchamalo.  Although I couldn’t find any, at Calblanque there were signs of movement still, with a ringtail female/juvenile distant harrier, a Short-toed Eagle, Sparrowhawk and Dartford Warbler, and at the Salinas at Marchamalo, in the Salinas themselves a group of about 50 Avocets, and in the Tamarisk bushes, a large group of around 60 Serins.

 En route to Calblanque, this Short-toed Eagle passed over, still enjoying its meal!

A view of the first hide at the salinas de Rasall, Calblanque

On Saturday, 26th October I went once again out to the Salinas at San Pedro del Pinatar, starting at El Mojon.  Hoping for decent numbers of waders, there had been a definite arrival of Spotted Redshanks (13 of them), but very little else.  On the beach at El Mojon, there was a good number of Turnstones (25+) and Sanderlings (50+), and once again the colour ringed Sanderling seen on my last visit was present.  This bird was originally ringed on the southwest coast of Iceland as an adult on the 27th May 2011, returning there on the 26th May 2012, then being seen at the beach in Torre de la Horadada (Alicante, Spain) on the 10th November 2012, again on the 27th January 2013 on the beach at San Pedro del Pinatar, in Denneville-Plage, Manche (France) on the 6th May 2013 before being seen by me on the 13th October and again the 26th October 2013 at El Mojon.  Clearly a well travelled bird!

 On the beach at El Mojon, a group of Sanderling and Turnstones, including the colour marked bird

Other birds of interest were a group of around 30 Swallows passing through, and a Grey Wagtail.  At San Pedro itself there were more Spotted Redshanks, Little Stint, and a couple of Reed Buntings – obviously the winter birds are finally arriving.

 The single Little Stint seen at the San Pedro salinas

On my way back from San Pedro I called in at the Marina de Carmoli on the Mar Menor, where the (now usual) group of waders was present, with Grey Plovers, Ruff, Knot, Ringed Plovers, Turnstones and 5 Curlews.

 On the Mar Menor by the Marina de Carmoli, the group of always flighty Curlew...

 ... and a juvenile Grey Plover which unusually, didn't fly off

On Tuesday 29th October, together with Diego Zamora and Antonio Fernandez-Caro, we did our monthly count at the EDAR (sewage farm) at Beaza, Cartagena.  Apart from the usual birds, the most interesting ducks were White-headed Ducks and female/juvenile Pintails, and we had a couple of Songthrushes, Meadow Pipits and Black Redstarts – a sure sign of winter (although we also had a rather late Northern Wheatear).  Also, in a group of around 25 Starlings, only two were Spotless, the rest being ‘Spotties’.  We finished the count just in time as in the evening locally we had the first decent rain (plus thunder, lightning and hail) since the spring, and the following morning many of the local roads were flooded.

 Quite a late bird, this juvenile Northern Wheatear at the EDAR Beaza

That was just about it for the month, apart from another visit to the sailing club at Los Urrutias on the 31st, where once again the Common Sandpiper was the only wader to be seen.

 A couple more shots of the Common Sandpiper at Los Urrutias

I began November with a walk on Saturday 2nd from the old hovercraft station by Punta Brava on the Mar Menor, west to the 'desembocadura' of the rambla de Albujon.  Again, the usual waders were there (Curlews, Bar-tailed Godwit, Knot, Turnstones, Ringed Plovers, Greenshanks, Grey Plovers, Dunlins, Ringed Plovers and Little Stints), and also good numbers of Black Redstarts, Stonechats, Fan-tailed Warblers and Meadow Pipits.

 Alongside the Mar Menor, a Fan-tailed Warbler (Zitting Cisticola) ...

 ... Chiffchaff ...

 ... one of a group (family?) of five Common Kestrels hunting insects ...
 ... and a sure sign of winter, Black Redstart

On Sunday 3rd November, just for a change, I paid a visit to the ‘encañizadas’ at the end of La Manga strip.  This brought a few new winter birds, (a Great White Egret, Water Pipit and several Crag Martins in the skies instead of Swallows and House Martins).
Having heard that on friday an Alpine Accentor was seen at Peñas Blancas just south of Cartagena, the winter birds are definitely arriving.

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’.


Birds mentioned in the blog:
Little Grebe (Tachybaptus ruficollis - Zampullín Común)
Black-necked Grebe (Podiceps nigricollis - Zampullín Cuellinegro)
Shelduck (Tadorna tadorna - Tarro Blanco)
Mallard (Anas platyrhynchos - Ánade Azulón)
Pochard (Aythya ferina - Porrón Europea)
Red Crested Pochard (Netta rufina - Pato Colorado)
Gadwall (Anas strepera - Ánade Friso)
Wigeon (Anas penelope - Silbón Europeo)
White-headed Duck (Oxyura leucocephala - Malvasía Cabeciblanca)
Pintail (Anas acuta - Ánade rabudo)
Cormorant (Phalacrocorax carbo – Cormorán Grande)
Greater Flamingo (Phoenicopterus roseus – Flamenco Común)
Glossy Ibis (Plegadis falcinellus - Morito Común)
Little Egret (Egretta garzetta – Garceta Común)
Great (White) Egret (Egretta alba - Garceta Grande)
Grey Heron (Ardea cinerea – Garza Real)
Squacco Heron (Ardeola ralloides - Garcilla Cangrejera)
Spotted Eagle (Aquila clanga - Aguila Moteada)
Short-toed Eagle (Circaetus gallicus - Culebrera Europea)
Common Buzzard (Buteo buteo – Ratonero)
Booted Eagle (Hieraaetus pennatus – Aguililla Calzada)
Sparrowhawk (Accipiter gentilis - Gavilán)
Kestrel (Falco tinnunculus - Cernícalo Vulgar)
Coot (Fulica atra - Focha Común)
Crested Coot (Fulica cristata - Focha Moruna)
Moorhen (Gallinula chloropus - Gallineta Común)
Purple Gallinule (Swamphen) (Porphyrio porphyrio - Calamón Común)
Avocet (Recurvirostra avosetta – Avoceta)
Black Winged Stilt (Himantopus himantopus – Cigüeñuela)
Collared Pratincole (Glareola pratincola - Canastera Común)
Lapwing (Vanellus vanellus - Avefría)
Grey Plover (Pluvialis squatarola - Chorlito Gris)
Ruff (Philomachus pugnax - Combatiente)
Knot (Calidris canutus - Correlimos Gordo)
Ringed Plover (Charadrius hiaticula - Chorlitejo Grande)
Kentish Plover (Charadrius alexandrinus - Chorlitejo Patinegro)
Common Sandpiper (Actitis hypoleucos - Andarríos Chico)
Green Sandpiper (Tringa ochropus - Andarríos Grande)
Redshank (Tringa totanus - Archibebe Común)
Spotted Redshank (Tringa erythropus - Archibebe Oscuro)
Greenshank (Tringa nebularia - Archibebe Claro)
Sanderling (Calidris alba – Correlimos Tridáctilo)
Turnstone (Arenaria interpres – Vuelvepiedras)
Dunlin (Calidris alpine – Correlimos Común)
Bar-tailed Godwit (Limosa lapponica – Aguja Colipinta)
Knot (Calidris canutus – Correlimos Gordo)
Curlew (Numenius arquata – Zarapito Real)
Sandwich Tern (Sterna sandvicensis - Charrán Patinegro)
Common Tern (Sterna hirundo - Charrán Común)
Little Tern (Sterna albifrons - Charrancito)
Whiskered Tern (Chlidonias hybrida - Fumarel Cariblanco)
Gull-billed Tern (Sterna nilotica - Pagaza Piconegra)
Collared Dove (Streptopelia decaocto - Tórtula Turca)
Hoopoe (Upupa epops - Abubilla)
Crested Lark (Galerida cristata - Cogujada Común)
Swallow (Hirundo rustica - Golondrina Común)
Crag Martin (Ptyonoprogne rupeatris - Avión Roquero)
House Martin (Delichon urbicum - Avión Común)
Reed Warbler (Acrocephalus scirpaceus - Carricero Común)
Iberian Chiffchaff (Phylloscopus ibericus – Mosquitero Ibérico)
Yellow-browed Warbler (Phylloscopus inornatus - Mosquitero Bilistado)
Cetti’s Warbler - Cettia cetti - Ruiseñor Bastardo)
Fan-tailed Warbler (Zitting Cisticola) (Cisticol juncidis - Buitrón)
Dartford Warbler (Sylvia undata - Curruca Rabilarga)
Sardinian Warbler (Sylvia melanocephala – Curruca Cabecinegra)
Penduline Tit (Remiz pendulinus - Pájaro Moscón)
Bluethroat (Luscinia svecica - Ruiseñor Pechiazul)
Northern Wheatear (Oenanthe oenanthe – Collalba Gris)
Robin (Erithacus rubecula – Petirrojo)
Black Redstart (Phoenicurus ochruros - Colirrojo Tizón)
Stonechat (Saxicola torquatus – Tarabilla Común)
Richard’s Pipit (Anthus richardi - Bisbita de Richard)
Meadow Pipit (Anthus pratensis - Bisbita Pratense)
Grey Wagtail (Motacilla cinerea - Lavandera Cascadeña)
Southern Grey Shrike (Lanius meridionalis - Alcaudón Real)
Spotless Starling (Sturnus unicolor - Estornino Negro)
Starling (Sturnus vulgaris - Estornino Pinto)
Serin (Serinus serinus - Verdecillo)
Reed Bunting (Emberiza schoeniclus - Escribano Palustre)