Wednesday, 25 December 2013

Christmas local roundup

Hi all,

I haven’t blogged for a while – due mainly to the lack of birds to write about, but I thought I’d put pen to paper for those of you who have just got here or who have a few days available to get into the field – where do you go?

Birdwatching seems to be pretty quiet at the moment locally – OK if you’re in the northwest of Spain with flocks of Ring-necked Ducks, Bufflehead, or other ducks, geese or white winged gulls, but in our corner of Spain it’s been pretty quiet.  That was until this week, when some interesting waterfowl started to show up, finishing with a female Goosander in the Mar Menor and Great Northern Diver past Cabo de Palos the day before yesterday (23rd December – not seen by me).

Most of the activity has been in the Mar Menor, where on then 15th December the annual Great White Egret showed itself at the sailing club at Los Urrutias.  I say annual, but it wasn’t that long ago when this species was considered a local rarity.  But since February 2008 one has normally been seen each winter in this locality.  The same trip out also produced good numbers of Great Crested Grebes (30+), Black Necked Grebes (25+) and the large group (of around 1,200) of Cormorants from the km.8 marker of the perimeter road, opposite the ‘Marina de Carmoli’, and slightly further along this road at the ‘desembacadura de la rambla de Albujón’, 6 Greater Flamingos in the Mar Menor (very unusual to see them here) and a couple of Reed Buntings and Bluethroats in the reedbed.

 At the club nautico Los Urrutias, apart from the normal waterbirds ...
 ... the annual Great White Egret finally showed up ...
 ... and a group of Greater Flamingos has been present

Due to Christmas, our monthly count at the EDAR Beaza (Cartagena sewage farm) was brought forward to the middle of the month (the 16th to be precise).  There was nothing out of the ordinary in the way of ducks apart from some Pintail (the normal ducks being Mallard, Shoveler, White-headed Ducks and Teal), but with the water level in one of the two lagoons very low due to repair work, a wader of interest was a single Wood Sandpiper complimenting the Greens and Commons, and there was also a Red-rumped Swallow feeding over the area with the customary 50 or so Crag Martins.  Of interest, a juvenile Red-rumped Swallow was caught and ringed at the ‘rambla de Albujon’ about a week earlier, the ringers considering it had only been out of the nest only about 2 or 3 weeks.

After a day of rain on the 17th December, I called in on the 18th to one of the farm reservoirs I visit regularly.  Here I had a single Common Buzzard (which are much more common at this time of the year, being birds from more northern climes), a single male Pochard and three very smart male Ferruginous Ducks (sorry I can’t give out the exact location for these as they are on private land).  I also heard that in one of the lakes at the nearby Los Alcazares golf club there had been a further 3 of these ducks, plus up to 5 overwintering Blue-headed Wagtails, so definitely a place I need to visit. 

 Ferruginous Duck with Pochard and Coot ...

... and a further two Ferruginous ducks crash landing!
The same day I also called into the ‘desembocadura de la rambla de Albujón’, where in the mouth of the river were a further 10 Greater Flamingos, Curlew and Marsh Harrier (on the deck by the reedbeds).  Slightly further east along the Mar Menor, I called in at the km.8 area where out to sea I had a couple of male Gadwall, and my first Red-breasted Merganser (female or immature) of the winter.  Also, there seemed to be quite a good number of Black-necked Grebes, and on counting them I got up to 54.
 Unusual in the Mar Menor, two male Gadwalls ...

... and a record shot of now scarce female/imm. Red-breasted Merganser
My final stop of the day just as dusk was falling, was at the old ‘Salinas de Rasall’ in Calblanque.  My main intention was to read rings on the Audouins Gulls, but the majority of the 64 birds present were sat on the walls of the lagoons making ring-reading impossible and I only managed to read two, both originally ringed as chicks on Isla Grosa just off the coast at La Manga.  A very nice bird I DID manage to see from the first hide there, was a Water Rail which was ambling around the almost dry pool on the left as you look out of the hide.

 A not uncommon bird at Calblanque - if you can see it close enough to i.d. it - Thekla Lark

After some more days of rain, I went down to the Marchamalo (Cabo de Palos) Salinas on Saturday the 21st December.  There was almost nothing in the way of waders here (just Avocets) – the water levels are currently very high and although it beggars belief, they are still pumping water in from the Mar Menor (we can only hope that they continue to do so in the spring!).  Other birds seen here were a couple of Black Necked Grebes, 18 Greater Flamingos and a single Little Egret.
I moved on from here to the sailing club at Los Urrutias, where there was a group of eight Greater Flamingos, a very confiding Little Grebe, Greenshanks, Turnstones, Dunlin and Grey Plover, and the Great White Egret showed itself again.  Slightly further west at the ‘desembocadura de la rambla de Albujón’, the Red-breasted Merganser could be seen and a single Stone Curlew flew over, but there was nothing else of interest.

 A very confiding Little Grebe ...

 ... some of the now apparently resident Greater Flamingos ...

 ... a Great White Egret that decided to join in ...

 ... Greenshank having a snooze ...

 ... immature Grey Plover ...

... and a couple more Greenshank around the shoreline
 On Sunday 22nd I decided it was about time for another woodland walk, so I went over to ‘Monte Cenizas’ at the back of the La Manga Club, on the way to Portman.  Here once again things were very quiet, the majority of birds seen being of just one species, Long-tailed Tits, although I did also see Meadow Pipits, Sardinian and Dartford Warblers, Chaffinches, Chiffchaffs, Serins, Robins, Black Redstarts and Stonechats, and singletons of Kestrel and Sparrowhawk.

 The commonest local woodland bird around - Long-tailed Tit

And on electrical cables, quite often you come across Southern Grey Shrikes

From here I went round to the ‘Marina de Carmoli’ (Los Urrutias) to have another look at the sea.  On the way I had a dark morph Booted Eagle, and out on the Mar Menor the Red-breasted Merganser was harassing Black-necked Grebes of which there were at least 50, and there were a further 85 Great Crested Grebes.  While trying to photograph the Red-breasted Merganser, a Bluethroat popped up out of nowhere and allowed me to photograph it!

 Another record shot of the Red-breasted Merganser, this time with Great Crested Grebe

 The nearest I could get to a seasonal photo ...

 ... Robins are short on the ground around here ...

 ... so you'll have to make do with this Bluethroat instead!

 And on the way home in its regular spot, Little Owl

First thing on Monday 23rd, I got a message from a friend to say that a Goosander had just been seen in the Mar Menor (a first for the region of Murcia), so instead of work, guess where I spent the day!  Not that it did me an awful lot of good as I didn’t see the bird, but on my travels, I did manage to see a flock of 176 Golden Plover feeding in a field at Mar de Cristal; a flock of 10 Red-breasted Mergansers and three Richards Pipits at the ‘Arenal’, Los Nietos (plus a further 200+ Great Crested Grebes and 40+ Black Necks); at the club nautico at Los Urrutias a single Avocet along with the normal waders, and from the ‘marina de Carmolí’ the Red-breasted Merganser plus 60+ Great Crested Grebes and 30+ Black Necked Grebes, and a group of five Marsh Hariers that flew up from the marina and started soaring.

 Some of the Golden Plovers ...
 ... in a field at the side of the road ...

 ... but when a Kestrel flew over the field, they all got

The Red-breasted Merganser seen from the Marina de Carmoli (digiscoped this time)

 ... and at a roadside puddle, a group of Linnets having an afternoon drink ...

... while a White Wagtail searched for a snack

Yesterday, Tuesday 24th December I thought I’d just have a quick look at the area where the Goosander had been seen – and HOORAY, yes it was there.  A long way out, in with a group of 4 Great Crested Grebes diving a lot of the time, but unmistakable none the less, with its red head clearly demarcated from the white neck – a Spanish tick for me (and breaking my run of dips during the autumn!).  It was on the west (left) side of the bay where the ‘La Manga Caravanning’ site is (next to Playa Honda and Playa Paraiso), off from the point where there is a single house built on the peninsula.  After watching it for a couple of minutes I went round to the peninsula (at Mar de Cristal, where I almost stepped on an overwintering Quail scaring the **** out of both me and the Quail!) but after searching for than more than an hour for the Goosander, I couldn’t relocate it (the wind had started to get up, so waves were forming, and there was a lot of boat movement, so it may have gone, or just have been hidden by the waves), so I left some other people searching as I had to get back to work!

And that's about it for the moment, so from a very windy and wet Murcia, I wish you all a very happy Christmas, and until my next report, good birding!!


P.s. High winds are forecast for the next few days, so a seawatch may be worthwhile!

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