Monday, 27 January 2014

The northwest of the Region of Murcia

Hi all,

After having to be close to home for the last couple of weekends, this last weekend (25th January 2014) I decided it was finally time to finish off my ‘birdrace’ of the 1st of January, and head for some woodlands.  Normally I would go to Sierra Espuña for my woodland birds, but as today I had no time restrictions, I decided to go further out, to the highest point in Murcia, Revolcadores, near to Caravaca de la Cruz.  But I would call in ‘en route’ at Inazares, a small village at the head of a valley where it’s quite often possible to see winter thrushes.

So, setting off at just before 8 a.m., I arrived at Inazares just before 10 a.m. (just short of a 2 hour drive to do around 180 kilometers).  The weather forecast had said that it would be a clear blue-sky day with light to moderate winds.  What do they know!!  It was overcast (at least to start with), and I would estimate the wind to have been about force 4 to 5, high up in the mountains in January, so bitterly cold – certainly not what I’m used to!  Still, after all that driving, a walk was in order (even if it was just to answer the call of nature), and I walked up the valley at the side of the village.  This is a valley that’s dry in the summer, but in wintertime, can often have at least standing water in it if not a full flowing river, and on the banks of this river are many tall poplar trees plus almond trees in small fields and bramble and rose-hip bushes.  Obviously, this is like a magnet to some birds, although today I didn’t see any Redwings, Fieldfares or Ring Ouzels.  What I did see however, were large groups of buntings, mainly Cirl Buntings, but with quite a few Rock Buntings mixed in, and eventually the bird I particularly wanted to see, Yellowhammer.  I thought I had one female in the first group of around 15 buntings I came across, but I was never 100% sure as the wind was blowing both me and the birds about, and the females can be tricky to differentiate from female Cirls.  But my next sighting was absolutely 100% - a male in breeding plumage – it almost glowed yellow!  Just what the doctor ordered.  And to add to things, there was a pair of Great Spotted Woodpeckers chasing around calling each other.  Another bird you don’t see in the coastal area of Murcia.

 Great Spotted Woodpecker that was calling and flying through the area

Just a record shot, but obvious what it is, male Yellowhammer

I left there at about 11:30 with 6 new birds for the yearlist (the three buntings, plus G.S.Woodpecker, Mistle Thrush and Great Tit!) and made my way to Cañada de la Cruz and up into the hills to Revolcadores.  Last year when I came here, I found a great location for Nuthatch, so I decided to go there and have a sandwich, and see if they were still around.  Well, I had to wait all of 5 minutes before I heard one calling, only to be joined by a second.  I spent about half an hour there trying to get photos, and then came down the hillside to another good area for birds, which has running water in water troughs for the sheep and goats, which the birds make good use of.  I spent the rest of the afternoon here just wandering around, picking up Coal Tit, Firecrest, Crested Tit, Woodlark, Crossbill, and, BLUE TIT!  Thank goodness for that – I don’t have to worry any more about where I might pick up Blue Tit.  And I heard a couple of Ring Ouzels, although I didn’t catch up with them.

 The long straight road leading to Andalucia

 In this, the highest part of the Region of Murcia, snow could be seen on the hilltops

 Principally pine woods, there are a few deciduous trees around

To the delight of many birds, many of the trees are festooned in mistletoe

 In the arable fields on the way, several Carrion Crows

 Stopping along the way for a sandwich 'brunch'...

... this Nuthatch showed itself

 Lower down in the woods, a Crested Tit ...

... together with Coal Tit ...

... and in the shadows, a pair of Firecrests showed themselves

So, back home again at 5 p.m., arriving back just under 2 hours later, a round trip of 390 km. a good day out (even if it was cold), and 14 new woodland birds for the year.


Saturday, 25 January 2014

Salinas de Rasall, Calblanque

Hi all,

After a couple of weeks devoted to local counts for the annual International Winter Wildfowl Census (and as so often occurs when there is a census, it seems that hardly any birds were seen), last Thursday I finally found myself with a free afternoon, so decided that as I hadn’t been over to Calblanque for a while, I’d pop over there and read some colour rings on the Audouin’s gulls at the old Salinas (and also keep an eye open for Glaucous Gull, as they seem to be all over the place here in Spain – virtually ever Galicia west coast port has one or more, and they’ve reached Malaga and Cadiz in the south, and they’ve even got as far south as the southern tip of Tenerife in the Canary Islands).

For those of you that have never been there, the old salinas (or ‘salinas de Rasall’ to give them their proper title) were working salt-pans up until about 25 years ago, and over the past couple of years some money and a lot of effort has been spent on them to renovate them by rebuilding the individual lagoon walls, and building a new ‘header’ reservoir at the western end so that in the summer, whereas they used to dry out, there is now a source of water to keep them topped up.  And finally, in the last couple of months a couple of windmills have been built to pump water from the Mediterranean into the reservoir (so the next time you go over there, the two big metal structures doesn’t mean someone’s struck oil – it’s the windmills). Of course that still leaves one major problem – what to do with the seriously saline water, but I’m sure someone will come up with a (saline) solution.

 The 'salinas de Rasall' in Calblanque

The Audouins Gulls seem to love just standing on the lagoon walls...

... or sitting there, which doesn't help with ring reading

Anyway, back to the gulls.  These Salinas are a favourite place for the Audouin’s gulls to call in at as they slowly make their way further north to their main breeding areas, in the ‘La Mata’ lagoon and on the island of Benidorm (Alicante); the Balearic islands and the ‘delta del Ebro’ in Tarragona.  They rest on the walls of the lagoons during the day, and then go off fishing for squid and anything else they can find by night, so the best time to see any numbers of them is in the afternoon, even though the suns position can be problematical.  Their main spring passage period is between now and the end of March, and in some years I’ve seen more than 700 of them in the Salinas – not bad for a bird that in the 1970s was considered to be virtually on the brink of extinction.  Due to their rarity, efforts have been made to evaluate their movements, and to this end, many of the chicks are colour ringed while they’re still flightless in the nest.  And these are the rings I try to read (normally quite large compared to metal rings, invariably a white plastic ring with black letters or numbers on them).  In total I saw 117 birds on Thursday, and was able to read 10 rings, many of which I already have the details of, as I’ve read them on previous occasions. 

In amongst them was another bird that I invariably see in January, an adult Common Gull.  Quite a rarity in the region of Murcia, I can only presume that it’s a bird that has been blown off course at some stage in its life, and has joined up in a group of what would be its nearest relative, and stayed with them.



On Thursday in amongst the Audouins was this Common Gull (Larus canus) -
light conditions weren't perfect for photographs, but you can see what it is

Other birds seen at the salinas were Shelduck, Slender Billed Gulls, Flamingos, Kentish Plover, Redshanks, Spotted Redshanks, Greenshanks, Little Egrets, Grey Heron, Little Owl, Marsh Harrier, Mallard, Water Pipit, Black-headed Gull, Little Ringed Plover, Avocet, Chiffchaff, Stonechat and Crested Lark, and from the first hide overlooking the Salinas, a Water Rail was calling.

 Since the salinas have had water pumped in, the number of visiting Flamingos has gone up

 On Thursday, this Marsh Harrier flew through causing panic with the Audouins Gulls

 Another regular at this time of year, Slender-billed Gull

 And keeping an eye on the place all year round, Little Owl

If you'd like to find out more about Calblanque and the efforts to restore it, check out the 'Associación Calblanque' blog which can be accessed on the right hand column from this blog.  Their next activity is on Sunday, 9th February - for further details check with the information centre in the reserve.


Tuesday, 7 January 2014

A visitor from home – Pied Wagtail!

First seen by Tomás García at the end of last year, on the afternoon of 4th January I had a couple of hours free and went with Tomás to the piles of manure near the A30 Cartagena-Murcia motorway where amongst the masses of White Wagtails (Motacilla alba alba), feeding on insects, there is a Pied Wagtail (Motacilla alba yarrellii).  Although I’m not normally too bothered about sub-species, I thought I’d go and have a look at the bird as they’re pretty rare in Murcia (in Spain in general, as would be expected, the further north, the more common they are in winter), and it didn’t seem right not to bother after it had flown so far!   Although the light wasn’t brilliant, I managed to get a few photos including one of the bird with a White Wagtail in the frame.  On my way home just before dark, I had a female Merlin cross the motorway plus a Sparrowhawk – the Merlin was my second that day prior to which I hadn’t seen one since autumn 2012!  So all in all, not a bad afternoon!

Exact location details for the wagtail can be found on the website ‘’.

Pied Wagtail, the last photo a record shot also showing
the colour difference with a White Wagtail in the foreground

Friday, 3 January 2014

A new year and new yearlist to start!

Happy New Year everyone!!

I ended 2013 with 227 species seen in the region of Murcia, with some quite reasonable ones (Short-Billed Dowitcher – 1st for Spain; Goosander – 1st for the region of Murcia) and some notable misses (White-winged Black Tern; Red-necked Nightjar; Common Rosefinch and Red-breasted Flycatcher spring to mind).

As in previous years, I started the New Year with a personal ‘maratón’ (birdrace) for the day.  In the past when I have been in Spain on the first of a new year, I have always started from Sierra Espuña and have spent far too long there and so have not managed to cover all the other places I wanted to check.  This year I decided to try something different and aimed to END at Sierra Espuña.  The problem with doing a birdrace at this time of year is not a lack of birds, but a lack of daylight hours to see them all in – effectively there are only 10 hours, from 8am to 6pm unless you want to get into looking for owls, and I don’t take it that seriously!  For those who ask why I do it, there is nothing scientific about it, it’s just a bit of fun and a good kickstart to the yearlist.  This is an account of how the day went – hardly any photos I’m afraid – no time for that!

I started the day at the ‘Encañizadas’ at the end of La Manga strip, arriving there at 7:50am.  There was just a sliver of light from the eastern horizon through the heavy clouds.  It was just about possible to make out the larger birds, my first one there being Yellow-legged Gull (actually my 5th species of the day, as on the way there I’d already had Stone Curlew on call, and Black Redstart, Blackbird and Robin under streetlights en route).  As it got lighter, more birds were visible and I finished there at 9am with 37 species under the belt, including such goodies as 8 Spoonbills, 2 Great White Egrets, a Kingfisher and Pintail, plus most of the common waders (at the end of this report I’ve put a full list in the order of seeing them).

Early morning Spoonbills feeding

My next stop was a short sea-watch at Cabo de Palos and quick look around the lighthouse.  Arriving there at 9:20am, I picked up Gannet, Balearic Shearwater and Audouin’s Gull, but there was no sign of Shag or Great Skua which I thought might put in an appearance.  A bonus in the lighthouse garden though, was a male Blue Rock Thrush, and the total up to 41.

Common off Cabo de Palos at this time of year, an adult Gannet

I hadn’t planned my next stop (this is where timings go kaput), but I thought I’d have a quick look at Cala Reona in Cabo de Palos as Shags often sit on the rocks just offshore there.  No Shag, but I did pick up another 6 common species, most of which I would expect to find in my travels, but the Hoopoe was good as it’s been a bird I’ve missed in previous years (although by the end of the day I’d seen a total of about six of them).

 Ticked off at Cala Reona, Stonechat

I moved on, to the Marchamalo Salinas arriving at 10:30am, where I bumped into Tomás Garcia and Conry Requena who were also out birding, but just for the morning.  Here I picked up another 7 species including a group of 50+ Golden Plovers and Dartford Warbler, and moving round to the other side of the Salinas (Playa Paraiso), I had a totally unexpected bird in the form of a Little Ringed Plover (a few normally winter but I’d not seen one on my preparations for the day).  Whilst in the area, I had a quick look over the Mar Menor but only picked up Great Crested Grebe and Sandwich Tern – no sign of mergansers or Goosander!   
So, with the total at 57, I headed back west along the Mar Menor, to the Arenal at Los Nietos, arriving at 11:40am.  I’d debated about making this stop to look for Richard’s Pipits – they can be a bit hit and miss, and it would be a long time for just a single bird.  But in the end I thought I’d do it.  So, stopping for another look over the Mar Menor before the walk over the Arenal, in the distance I picked out a flock of 22 Red-breasted Mergansers (all females/immatures except a single adult male).  Bumping into Gabriel Lorenzo there, he told me he had earlier seen a Richard’s Pipit, so pointing out the flock of mergansers to him, I left him with my ‘scope and tripod (the sky had cleared by now and there was no wind, so it was actually beginning to feel HOT!) and went in search of the bird.  Half an hours walk and no luck, but coming back to collect my ‘scope – what was that call – not one but two Richard’s Pipits.  Now it was just a case of finding where they’d dropped.  Luckily Gabriel had seen, and I got the two in the same bins view!  A lot of time but three new species (I also picked up various Crested Larks which was new, and also saw another couple of Hoopoes).

My next stop was another place I’d debated over – a farm reservoir for some ducks, but as it happened it didn’t take too long (just the time walking from the car and back) and I’d got another 6 species, including a group of 4 male Ferruginous Ducks.

From here I went to the old El Algar sewage farm (EDAR).  This has been very quiet of late although there’s a little water in it, but is probably the most regular place for Common Buzzard at this time of the year, and I managed two of them, plus Green Sandpiper.

By now it was 13:30, and this is where I went totally wrong.  Driving back along the Mar Menor coast road to pick up the pair of Little Owls perched on ‘their’ hut, then on to the ‘club nautico’ at Los Urrutias.  There were plenty of birds here, including another Great White Egret, but nothing new for the day.  Then I decided to go along the ‘rambla de Albujon’ looking for Snipe and/or Jack Snipe, Bluethroat and Water Pipit, and where I DID manage to pick up another 4 species (and saw another Hoopoe), but over the last week they 
have been cutting the reeds, so none of the more usual species were there, and I’d just done-in 50 minutes.

I then um’ed and ar’ed about my next stop, the Salinas at San Pedro del Pinatar.  I knew I was guaranteed 4 species there but it was quite a drive especially as I’d have to come back the same way.  In the end I gave in to the thought of the four species – of which I got three (where have all the Ruff gone!) plus another couple of bonus birds and got back to Cartagena by 4pm, so can’t complain.  Another farm reservoir followed by the main Cartagena sewage-farm (EDAR Beaza – where Tomás and Conry had seen Tufted Duck in the morning) gave me another 5 species (83 now), although I had no luck with the Tufted.  Then it was decision time – I still had two places to visit, the Saladares del Guadalentín and Sierra Espuña, but there was no way I could do them both.  In the end I decided on the saladares and after a 30 minute belt up the motorway towards Alhama de Murcia, I got to the saladares at five to five and guessed I’d got about an hour to search for Chaffinch and Greenfinch, three species of lark (Skylark; Calandra and Lesser Short-toed); Corn Bunting; Tree Sparrow; Cattle Egret; Magpie; Spectacled Warbler; Jackdaw; Carrion Crow; Green Woodpecker; Booted and Golden Eagle and Hen Harrier!  As it happened, apart from Crested Lark (which I’d already got), all the larks must go to bed early as I didn’t get a sniff of them.  Greenfinch was easy, as was Magpie, Jackdaw and Corn Bunting (and also Red-legged Partridge and Stone Curlews which I didn’t need), but of the rest not a sign!  I did pick up a bonus though, in the form of a Lapwing in one of the small reservoirs there, and having given the day up as finished, passing through the village of Los Muñoces, I came upon a farm reservoir with 6 Cattle Egrets on the banks in the almost dark.

So that was it – 89 species total of which 88 seen plus one heard only (Cetti’s Warbler), and no woodland birds (Ring Ouzel, Mistle Thrush, corvids, tits, Short-toed Treecreeper, Rock and Cirl Buntings, crests etc.) which I might have seen in Sierra Espuña.  Oh well, there’s always next year!!

Birds seen/heard in the order of their sighting:

En route to Encañizadas, La Manga
1     1)    Stone Curlew – (Burhinus oedicnemus) - Alcaraván
2     2)    Black Redstart – Phoenicurus ochruros) – Colirrojo tizon
3     3)    Blackbird – (Turdus merula) - Mirlo
4     4)    Robin – (Erithacus rubecula) - Petirrojo

Encañizadas, La Manga (07:50 – 09:00)
5     5)    Yellow-legged Gull – (Larusmichahellis) – Gaviota patiamarilla
6     6)    Cormorant (Phalacrocorax carbo) - Cormorán
7     7)    Greater Flamingo (Phoenicopterus ruber) - Flamenco
8     8)    Mallard – (Anas platyrhynchos) – Ánade azulón
9     9)    Shelduck – (Tadorna tadorna)  - Tarro blanco
1   10)   Little Egret – (Egretta garzetta) – Garceta común
1   11)   Curlew – (Numenius arquata) – Zarapito real
1   12)   Spoonbill – (Platalea leucorodia) - Espátula
1   13)   Grey Heron (Ardea cinerea) – Garza real
1   14)   Great White Egret – (Egretta alba) – Garceta grande
1   15)   Sardinian Warbler – (Sylvia melanocephala) – Carruca cabecinegra)
1   16)   Grey Plover – (Pluvialis squatarola) – Chorlito gris
1   17)   Ringed Plover (Charadrius hiaticula) – Chorlitejo grande
1   18)   Dunlin – (Calidris alpina) – Correlimos común
1   19)   Turnstone – (Arenaria interpres) - Vuelvepiedras
2   20)   Sanderling – (Calidris alba) – Correlimos tridáctilo
2   21)   Slender-billed Gull (Larus genei) – Gaviota picofina
2   22)   Bar-tailed Godwit – (Limosa lapponica) – Aguja colinegra
2   23)   Black-headed Gull – (Larus ridibundus) – Gaviota reidora
2   24)   Greenshank – (Tringa nebuaria) – Archibebe claro
2   25)   Spotless Starling – (Sturnus unicolor) – Estornino negro
2   26)   Little Stint –(Calidris minuta) – Correlimos menudo
2   27)   Kentish Plover - (Charadrius alexandrinus) – Chorlitejo patinegro
2   28)   Black Necked Grebe – (Podiceps nigricollis) – Zampullín cuellinegro
2   29)   Pintail - (Anas acuta) – Anade rabudo
3   30)   Kestrel – (Falco tinnunculus) - Cernícalo
3   31)   Meadow Pipit – (Anthus pratensis) – Bisbita común
3   32)   Kingfisher – (Alcedo atthis) – Martín pescador
3   33)   Goldfinch – (Carduelis carduelis) - Jilguero
3   34)   Starling – (Sturnus vulgaris) – Estornino pinto
3   35)   Collared Dove – (Streptopelia decaocto) – Tórtola turca
3   36)   White Wagtail – (Motacilla alba alba) – Lavandera blanca
3   37)   House Sparrow – (Passer domesticus)  - Gorrión común

Cabo de Palos (09:20 – 10:00)
3   38)   Gannet – (Morus bassanus) - Alcatraz
3   39)   Balearic Shearwater - (Puffinus mauretanicus) – Pardela balear
4   40)   Audouin’s Gull – (Larus audouinii) – Gaviota de Audouin
4   41)   Blue Rock Thrush – (Monticola soliarius) – Roquero solitario

Cala Reona, Cabo de Palos (10:10 – 10:30)
4   42)   Hoopoe - (Upupa epops) - Abubilla
4   43)   Serin – (Serinus serinus) - Verdecillo
4   44)   Linnet – (Carduelis cannabina) – Pardillo común
4   45)   Red-legged Partridge – (Alectoris rufa) – Perdiz roja
4   46)   Stonechat – (Saxicola torquata) – Tarabilla común
4   47)   Southern Grey Shrike – (Lanius meridionalis) – Alcaudón real 

Marchamalo Salinas (10:35 – 11:10)
4   48)   Avocet – (Recurvirostra avosetta) - Avoceta
4   49)   Golden Plover – (Pluvialis apricaria) – Chorlito dorado europeo
5   50)   Monk Parakeet – (Myiopsitta monachus) – Cotorra argentina
5   51)   Redshank – (Tringa totanus) – Archibebe común
5   52)   Black Winged Stilt – (Himantopus himantopus) - Cigüeñuela
5   53)   Dartford Warbler – (Sylvia undata) – Curruca rabilarga
5   54)   Chiffchaff – (Phylloscopus collybita) – Mosquitero común
5   55)   Little Ringed Plover – (Charadrius dubius) – Chorlitejo chico

Mar Menor – Playa Honda (11:15 – 11:20)
5   56)   Great Crested Grebe – (Podiceps cristatus) – Somormujo lavanco
5   57)   Sandwich Tern – (Sterna sandvicensis) – Charrán patinegro

Mar Menor – Arenal de Los Nietos (11:40 – 12:30)
5   58)   Red-breasted Merganser – (Mergus serrator) – Serreta mediana
5   59)   Richard’s Pipit – (Anthus richardi) – Bisbita de Richard
6   60)   Crested Lark – (Galerida cristata) – Cogujada común

Farm reservoir, Campo de Cartagena (12:50 – 13:05)
6   61)   Little Grebe – (Tachybaptus ruficollis) – Zampullín chico
6   62)   Pochard – (Aythya ferina) – Porrón común
6   63)   Coot – (Fulica atra) – Focha común
6   64)   Ferruginous Duck – (Aythya nyroca) – Porrón pardo
6   65)   Fan-tailed Warbler – (Cisticola  juncidis) - Buitrón
6   66)   Rock Dove (Domestic Pigeon) – (Columba livia)  - Paloma bravía

EDAR, El Algar (13:15 – 13:30)
6   67)   Common Buzzard – (Buteo buteo) – Busardo ratonero
6   68)   Green Sandpiper – (Tringa ochropus) – Andarrios grande
Los Urrutias (13:40)
6   69)   Little Owl – (Athene noctua) - Mochuelo

Rambla de Albujon (14:00 – 14:50)
7   70)   Reed Bunting – (Emberiza schoeniclus) – Escribano palustre
7   71)   Songthrush – (Turdus philomelos) – Zorzal común
7   72)   Moorhen – (Gallinula chloropus) – Gallineta
7   73)   Marsh Harrier – (Circus aeruginosus) – Aguilucho lagunero

Salinas de San Pedro del Pinatar (15:10 – 15:30)
7   74)   Black-tailed Godwit – (Limosa limosa) – Aguja colinegra
7   75)   Spotted Redshank – (Tringa erythropus) – Archibebe oscuro
7   76)   Cetti’s Warbler (heard) – (Cettia cetti) – Ruiseñor bastardo
7   77)   Grey Wagtail - (Motacilla citreola) – Lavandera cascadeña
7   78)   Woodpigeon – (Columba palumbus) – Paloma torcaz

Farm reservoir, Los Camachos (Cartagena) (15:55 – 16:10)
7   79)   Shoveler – (Anas clypeata) - Cuchara

EDAR, Beaza (Cartagena) (16:15 – 16:25)
8   80)   Teal – (Anas crecca) – Cerceta común
8   81)   White-headed Duck – (Oxyura leucocephala) – Malvasia cabeciblanca
8   82)   Common Sandpiper – (Actitis hypoleucos) – Andarrios chico
8   83)   Common Snipe – (Gallinago gallinago) – Agachadiza común

Saladares del Guadalentín (16:55- 17:55)
8   84)   Magpie – (Pica pica) - Urraca
8   85)   Jackdaw – (Corvus monedula) - Grajilla
8   86)   Corn Bunting – (Miliaria calandra) - Triguero
8   87)   Lapwing – (Vanellus vanellus) - Avefría
8   88)   Greenfinch – (Carduelis chloris) - Verderón
8   89)   Cattle Egret – (Bubulcus ibis) – Garcilla bueyera

As I say, nothing too exceptional, but this give you an idea of the birds that ARE currently about locally. 

So, until my next report, happy birding!