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!!



  1. Hi Richard , I was down at San Pedro Salinas on Sunday and read the ring on one of the Flamingos. it is MXOZ, I don't know what to do with this information so I will pass it onto you whenever I can read. The canal which goes from the start of the salinas on the left going back to El Majon is alive with small birds at the moment . Water pipit, Cettis, Fantailed, Subalpine, Reed bunting, Grey wags and Crag martins. Thanks again for your posts. Geoff. Stokes.

    1. Hi Geoff, Thanks for the information and ring number. I'll send it off which my next batch, but it may take some time to get a reply - I sent off some ring readings a couple of months ago and have heard nothing yet. Probably something to do with government cutbacks - less people working in the ringing office.
      Please feel free to send me any other readings of flamingos or any birds - but specifically in the case of flamingos, it's necessary to know the colour of the ring, and colour of the lettering. Also helpful is which leg the ring is on, and whether the lettering is read up or down. It's just possible that with all the different countries ringing schemes ringing flamingos, some could be duplicated but there's normally something that can be used to tell them apart. I am assuming the ring you read was black lettering on a white (or off-white) background.
      A note about the birds in the canal - I think the Subalpine may be a mis-identification as it'd be VERY unusual to have them here at this time of year - a female Sardinian maybe?
      All the best, Richard.

  2. I'm flying out for a few days birding on the 6th Dec so will be keeping an eye on what you see about :-)

    1. Hi, that's the weekend I'll (hopefully) be up at Gallocanta seeing zillions of Cranes so I won't be able to catch up with you.
      Murcia's relatively quiet at the moment - the little bit of sea passage from Cabo de Palos, and the Richard's Pipits at Los Nietos are probably the most interesting. All the rest of the action seems to be at El Hondo, with the G.S.Eagles, Booted Eagle, Osprey, Glossy Ibis and Cranes, but I'll try to let you know if I hear of anything nearer the date.

    2. Cheers :-) I will be staying at Cabo Roig, flying back on the 11th. I try to come out twice a year birding and again once or twice with family so I can only dabble then. I visited El Hondo in March and thoroughly enjoyed it.

  3. If it's about i'm sure Richard will know about it.