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.