Tuesday, 3 December 2013

3rd December 2013 - Local Update

Hi all,

I think windy and wet summarizes the last couple of weeks here in our corner of Spain, although there has been the occasional sunny morning or afternoon.  Not what we’ve become accustomed to in this generally hot and sunny autumn, but how it should be.

I’ve not been very adventurous on my infrequent outings over the past couple of weeks – the furthest I’ve been are the salinas at San Pedro del Pinatar  – but there have been a few interesting birds about.

Marchamalo salinas (Cabo de Palos)
The rain over the past couple of weeks has pretty much filled these up, with most of even the driest lagoons with some water in them.  The dilution of fresh (rain) water must be doing wonders for the invertebrate life, as there are now plenty of birds feeding in the lagoons – Greater Flamingos around the 30 mark, around 70 Avocets, up to 15 Spotted Redshanks and 5 Greenshanks, and even the occasional group of Dunlin and Little Stint passing through (although I suspect these are birds being forced south by the cold further north in Europe).  Shelduck numbers are also building up, with up to 40 birds, and a further 30 or so Black Winged Stilts (although these are spread out around the lagoons).  Sometimes in the afternoon, there are good numbers of Slender-billed Gulls, the adults of which are now already in their splendid pink-flush breeding plumage although they have the remnants of the winter plumage dark smudge behind the eye.

 Slender-billed Gull

 Adult Slender-billed Gull with a breeding plumage flush!

A few times recently, I have watched the Avocets flock feeding, further evidence of good quantities of invertebrates in the water.  Unlike when they feed individually, they all gather swimming together and appear to ‘herd’ their food, moving first one way and then the other.  Quite comical but interesting to watch. Also swim feeding have been the Spotted Redshanks, sometimes quite close to the perimeter road.

 There's plenty of Avocets around at the moment ...

... quite comical to watch doing their mass feeding 'ballet'

On the walls of the lagoons, there is a reasonable flock of Audouin’s Gulls building up, with around 30-40 at the moment.  Normally there are a few of these gulls here, but the majority of the wintering birds are at the nearby Rassal Salinas at Calblanque.   Also on the walls of the lagoons there are normally 7 or 8 Grey Herons – I presume they must feed overnight as they never appear to during the day!

 Grey Heron for once NOT on the walls of the lagoons

Always around the edges of the lagoons, a Little Egret
Other birds that spend their time on the lagoon walls are Sandwich Terns (I had 23 there in the this morning) and the newly arrived Golden Plover (a group of 17 first seen on the 29th November).  These waders used to always winter here with numbers up to around 150, but over the past few years numbers have dropped, and the last couple of years they have only been seen passing through in late November/December and then again in February.

Not often there's not one or two of these Black Winged Stilts knocking about

A couple of record shots of the flock of Golden Plover seen late in the day

Other odds ‘n’ ends seen at the Salinas have been a couple of Black-necked Grebes (for some reason very unusual actually in the Salinas although quite common in the nearby Mar Menor), and a single female or immature male Common Teal in the lagoon at the side of the road (very unusual this, considering how jumpy they are normally), and the occasional Stone Curlew on the lagoon walls or seen flying over.
 Black-necked Grebe - a rare visitor to the salinas themselves

 Portraits of Spotted Redshanks

 Greater Flamingos getting aggressive

 Nice bright Greater Flamingo

Los Nietos Arenal
An early afternoon walk on Sunday the 24th November produced just a single Richard’s Pipit, but also various Meadow Pipits, Linnets, Greenfinches, Serins, Stonechats, and a single Hoopoe and Southern Grey Shrike.

 Always present in the winter at the Arenal Los Nietos, Stonechats

Monthly waterbird count, EDAR Cabezo Beaza (Cartagena)
The afternoon of Monday 25th November, together with Diego Zamora and Antonio Fernandez-Caro, I went to the EDAR (sewage farm) of Cartagena at Cabezo Beaza for our monthly count.  Here we had the usual waterbirds (Little and Black-necked Grebes, Moorhen, Coot, Mallard, Shoveler, Pochard, Teal, Shelduck and White-headed Duck), plus a few not so usual, such as 3 Pintail, a group of 10 Avocets, and in with good numbers of Black-headed Gulls, a single 2nd winter Little Gull flying in typical marsh-tern like fashion as it picked insects off the water.

2nd winter Little Gull present in with the Black-headed's
Talking of the EDAR at Cabezo Beaza, for those of you who may be interested, Antonio has produced an excellent 150 page summary of 7 years of monthly surveys done here, which can be reached from the following link:


This takes you to a page of downloadable reports, from which you should select

Informe del seguimiento ornitológico en las Lagunas del Cabezo Beaza. 2006-2013. (ANSE. A. Fernández-Caro, A. J. Hernández, R. Howard y D. Zamora).

This gives you a summary of all the significant birds, with totals, seen over the past seven years.

San Pedro del Pinatar salinas
On saturday 30th November, the day started sunny and windless, so I took a trip over to the salinas at San Pedro del Pinatar, starting at El Mojon, where the perimeter canal enters into the Mediterranean. This seems to be the area with the most birds recently and very good for photography as you can go on either side of the canal and get good light.  I spent a couple of hours here, with a couple of Ruff, 17 Dunlin, Little Stint, Ringed Plover, Common Sandpiper, Grey Wagtail, Kingfisher, Crag Martins, Meadow Pipits, Bluethroats, Black Winged Stilts, Turnstone, Chiffchaffs, Sardinian and Fan-tailed Warblers – nothing out of the ordinary but good to see close up.

Some of the birds seen at El Mojon - from top to bottom:

Dunlin; Common Sandpiper; Black Winged Stilt; Grey Wagtail; Grey Wagtail; Black Winged Stilts and Ruff; Ruff

Later in the morning I went round to the other side of the salinas, taking the road down to the port.  I stopped first having a look over the sea just to the north of the port, where last winter we had a good group of Common Scoter, and yes, there was one, a female or immature about halfway along the port wall.

Record shot of the single Common Scoter on the Mediterranean

Working my way back along the port road towards the information centre, there were very few birds about, apart from a group of waders in the corner of one of the lagoons, where I had seen them on my last visit – 18 Dunlin, 17 Sanderling and 10 Little Stints all together.  Otherwise things were very quiet – less than 100 Flamingoes visible; a few Meadow Pipits and Crag Martins, and Spotted Redshanks, Avocets and a couple of Ruff.

1st winter Slender-billed Gull - note the clear eye
At this tme of year, many Dunlin with long downcurved bills that I have often seen confused for Curlew Sandpipers

Sanderling ...
... mixed group of Dunlin and Sanderling ...
... plus a Little Stint ...
... and now in flight

Along the path, several Meadow Pipits

Now not so frequent, Ringed Plover ...

... and a very common winter visitor, Chiffchaff

Seen everywhere in winter, Stonechat
On my way back towards Los Belones, along the Mar Menor I had a light morph Booted Eagle and a Common Buzzard, and calling in briefly at the ‘desembocadura de la rambla de Albujon’, birds of note were Marsh Harrier, Songthrush, Green Woodpeckers, Reed Bunting and Common Snipe.  My final stop was at the sailing club at Los Urrutias where again, there was very little – 7 Sandwich Terns and 2 Slender-billed Gulls sat on a floating plank of wood, a Grey Plover and surprisingly (as I thought they’d all gone), a Bar-tailed Godwit.  Also, new arrivals were a couple of immature Greater Flamingos.

At the desembocadura, one of two Grey Herons

In the 'desembocadura' a single Greenshank ...
... together with two Black Winged Stilts ...
... and a Grey Plover, all a little nervous due to ...

... the Marsh Harrier flying overhead

Local farm reservoirs
On Monday 2nd December, as it was a sunny and a not-cold day, after work I had a trip round some of the farm reservoirs I’ve got access to.  Most were empty but on one I had a group of 17 Common Pochard and 3 Ferruginous Ducks as well as the obligatory Coots and Little Grebes, making the afternoon very worthwhile.  And on my way home, a dark morph Booted Eagle, Common Buzzard and Magpie (which is a rare winter visitor around my village!).

One of three Ferruginous Ducks seen at this particular pool ...

... and here the other two

They didn't hang around though ...
... joining up with their cousins at the back of the pool

On my way home, stopping off at the 'club nautico' at Los Urrutias, this Greenshank ...

... and further along the Los Urrutias - Los Nietos road, in the top of a tree ...
And that's about it for the moment, so until my next report, good birding!!




  1. There is plenty of stuff about still then, excellent. 2 days to go, I'm all set.

    1. Suggest you bring your cold weather gear when you come!!