Thursday, 27 February 2014

A walk in the park

I heard yesterday that in a park in Santa Ana, near Cartagena, some Redwings which were first seen a week ago were still around, so this afternoon (Thursday, 27th Feb.) I had a walk around the park.  I’d never been here before, and was quite amazed how big it is, with various areas of children’s playgrounds, tennis courts and general sports areas, but more interesting to me, a variety of trees in open ground with lots of puddles formed from the irrigation system. There were Collared Doves, Blackbirds and Chaffinches everywhere and a large flock of the introduced Monk Parakeets.  Checking through the Blackbirds, I found a group of three Redwings feeding with them, which seemed very strange, as here in Spain I’m used to seeing them normally in mountainous areas such as Sierra Espuña or Revolcadores – and here they were in an urban park with all that goes with it – dog walkers, joggers and cyclists! I spent about 30 minutes watching them until the heavens opened when I headed back home.

Part of the park at Santa Ana

 There was a good variety of birds - here Blackbird, Hoopoe and Redwing

 A close-up of the Hoopoe

 The group of three Redwings with a male Blackbird

The Redwings were wandering about, feeding with the Blackbirds ...
 ... and didn't seem at all bothered by human company
 Of course, what kept them there were the pools of water from the irrigation system

 Also wandering around feeding on the ground, a flock of Monk Parakeets ...
 ... they wouldn't let you too close, but were nowhere near as wary as I'm used to

Other birds seen in the park were Goldfinch, Serin, Greenfinch, Crossbill, House Sparrow, Black Redstart, Hoopoe and White Wagtail.

A local afternoon

This afternoon (Wednesday, 26th Feb.) I arranged to go out birding with Mick Brewer.  He returns to the UK on Friday, and there were some local birds he wanted to see before he went. 

We started off at the Arenal, Los Nietos (the area of beach between Los Nietos and Los Urrutias on the Mar Menor).  We were hoping to see Richards Pipit there, and it was the right sort of day to see them (i.e. no wind).  Walking along the Mar Menor, we soon heard one calling overhead and tracked it to where it dropped down.  We managed to get the ‘scopes on it on the ground, and saw it joined by a second bird.  We watched the two of them until they disappeared into some long grass.  We carried on walking for a while, but the sky started to look very threatening so we decided to go back to the car.  On the way back, the two pipits got up again, and watching where they dropped, we got second views on them for a time, until large spots of rain started to drop!

 Richards Pipit at the Arenal

We sat out the shower in the car, and then had a quick look over the Mar Menor which was now quite calm.  Apart from numbers of Great Crested Grebes (c.40) and Black Necked Grebes (c.50), we had three Red-breasted Mergansers on the water (a male and two ‘redheads’) – these must be starting on their journey north now as every day there are less of them.

From here we went over to Calblanque, primarily to read rings on Audouins Gulls, but also in the hope of at least hearing Eagle Owl as one has been reported there over the last week or so.  At the ‘Salinas de Rasall’, there were 143 Audouins Gulls resting on the lagoon walls, of which we managed to read 8 rings.  Also there, was a very smart adult Mediterranean Gull in breeding plumage.

 A very sleepy Mediterranean Gull in amongst the Audouins

We went from here to the other end of the Salinas in the hope of maybe seeing Water Rail from the hide, but we didn’t make the hide.  Parking up the car, we could hear a Scops Owl calling from a group of pine trees on the hills.  We approached in the hope of catching up with it, but no luck – either because of our approach, or because there were a couple of hill walkers on the peaks of the hills, the owl became silent and we had no chance of finding it.

By now the light was starting to go – the sun had dropped behind the hills, and at about 7-10pm we started to hear the ‘booom booom’ that we had wanted to hear – a male Eagle Owl calling.  Scanning the skyline for all we were worth, we eventually located the owl, typical with its ‘ears’ vertical and tail slightly cocked, calling in all directions.  We watched it for a while, but when it flew off we gave up for the evening and went home.

 Sunset over Calblanque

 And when it got dark, an Eagle Owl (the blob in the middle!) showed itself

Monday, 24 February 2014

A day out at El Hondo

On Saturday, 22nd February, together with Mick Brewer, I went out of the region of Murcia for my first visit of the year to the ‘El Hondo’ reserve which is inland from Santa Pola in the neighbouring province of Alicante.  This has to be one of the best organised reserves in the east of Spain, although due to budget cuts, the information centre is now closed on Saturdays!  This doesn’t stop the ornithological trail from being open from 9-30 am until 12-30 (in fact it’s now ONLY open on Saturdays, and it is necessary to pre-book a visit to this trail).

Arriving at just after 9, there was already quite a queue of cars waiting to go in, and we actually went in at 9-10, heading directly for the large raised hide at the end of the trail.  From here it is possible to see two lagoons, one to the west of the hide and the other to the east. However, viewing the lagoon to the east (which invariably has the most birds on it), you are always looking into the sun and so virtually everything is in silhouette.  The light for the view to the western lagoon is perfect, but the only birds on the water there today were many Coots, and a few Little Grebes which were trilling away to form pairs.  At the edge of the reeds around the lagoon we had a couple of Great White Egrets fly over, and singing from the reeds I could hear at least two Moustached Warblers (the advantage of going to El Hondo at this time of the year is that the Reed Warblers have not arrived yet, and so the birds that sound like Reed Warblers are invariably Moustached Warblers).  They took some searching for, as they often sing from the bases of the reeds, but being in the hide which is on legs (and so about 4 metres above ground level) eventually we managed to get good views of one through the ‘scope.  In the same area of reeds I could also hear some Penduline Tits – it’s amazing how well they blend in considering their bright colours – but again with some prolonged searching we managed to see at least 3 birds.

 The Booted Eagle sat in a tree for quite a while

 View from the hide looking west.  In the reeds we had Moustached Warbler and Penduline Tits

 The raised hide at the end of the trail

We had Chiffchaffs singing all the time, and Cetti’s Warblers and Water Rails occasionally added to the sounds.  Perched in one of the dead trees we had a Booted Eagle for about 15 minutes and on an electricity pylon, a Common Buzzard perched with another flying around.  Over the reeds there always seemed to be at least one Marsh Harrier in the air, and we also had a flock of about 50 Glossy Ibises fly past, and small flock of six Common Snipe. A couple of times we had a falcon zoom by that wasn’t a Kestrel or Peregrine, which we eventually decided was a Merlin, but the highlight from that hide was seeing distantly towards the south end of the line of eucalyptus trees, two Spotted Eagles one of which was attacking the other (whether just in play or seriously we don’t know).  We saw these on and off over about 20 minutes.

At about 11-15 we left that hide, as we still had some other hides to look from, and going back to the first hide along the trail, we were lucky enough to see a third much closer Spotted Eagle, this one an adult, which was being mobbed firstly by three Grey Herons, and then later by a Marsh Harrier.  From the first hide we could see a lot of duck (mainly Teal, Shoveler, Shelduck and Mallard), a few Lapwing and a largish group of around 50 Black-tailed Godwits, a Ruff, Green Sandpiper plus some other smaller waders (probably Dunlin), but by this time of the morning the heat haze was such that it was almost impossible to see these birds clearly to identify them.  We could also see some of the Glossy Ibises there.

 Adult Spotted Eagle ...
 ... attacked first by three Grey Herons ...

 ... and then by a Marsh Harrier

View to the south, where all the waders were to be seen

Leaving the ornithological trail at 12-30, we went round to the information centre for a sandwich lunch.  Here there are picnic table set out under a shaded area, next to which is a small lagoon where there are always Moorhens, Coots, Purple Gallinules and Little Grebes, and some introduced Crested Coots.  Flying over this lagoon were good numbers of Crag and House Martins, and a few Swallows.

 At the pool by the picnic area, one of the introduced Crested Coots

From here we took a walk along the boardwalk area with views over the reedbeds, and then a look from the two ‘VOLCAM’ hides, but by this time of day things were pretty quiet (although we did have another distant view of one of the Spotted Eagles). On one of the lagoons there was nothing but Coots and Little Grebes, but on the other were good numbers of Pochard and around 15 Tufted Ducks – quite a large number for this species.

Views from the 'VOLCAM' hides

We decided to finish the day round the other (south-eastern) side of the reserve, along what is known as the ‘Vistabella Road’, but going past the rubbish tip near to the north gate, we saw a large number of gulls flying around, so we decided to investigate (we’d already been there once, but the tip wasn’t working and there didn’t seem to be any birds there at all).  From a small raised bank we could look into the tip works area where there were hundreds of gulls, mainly Black-headed but also a few Mediterranean and Yellow-legged. Also there were masses of Cattle Egrets and a few Jackdaws.

 At the rubbish tip, there were plenty of gulls - mainly Black-headed, but Mediterraneans as well ...

 ... and large numbers of Cattle Egrets

But the commonest gulls were Black-headed

Round at the south side of the reserve, we had more Marsh Harriers and Booted Eagles flying around, and we found the new hide that has been put up – and what a great hide it is!  About 150 metres into the reserve, it has panoramic views over water, reedbeds and a little bit of marshy edge.  We spent the rest of our time there just watching and waiting – here we had a large flock of gulls (Black-headed and Mediterranean) on the water, plus more Pochard, and Tufted Ducks, and some Red Crested Pochards (males and females).  We had Little Grebes trilling all the time, and a single Great Crested Grebe asleep on the lagoon, at least four Great White Egrets and a Purple Gallinule, many Cormorants on posts and the best bird from there, an Osprey which was also perched on a post all the time we were there.  And there seemed to be a flock of around 100 Glossy Ibises which just didn’t know where to settle – they must have flown over at least six times, to and fro.

 Part of the group of Glossy Ibises that kept flying around

 Marsh Harriers were with us all day long

 The Ibises did some pretty close flypasts ...
 ... as did this group of Cattle Egrets

 One minute one way, the next minute another ...

 ... the Ibises just couldn't make up their minds where they wanted to go

Also seen and heard all day, Little Grebes

This Osprey spent all the time we were there, on this post ...

 ... although the majority of birds on posts were Cormorants

 The hide where we spent a few hours in the afternoon

All too soon, it was time to set off for home, so after a quick look at some of the nearby fields for Common Crane (one of the few birds we DIDN’T see) it was back onto the motorway and home.

Bird species seen/heard during the day:

Little Grebe; Great Crested Grebe; Black Necked Grebe; Cormorant; Cattle Egret; Little Egret; Great White Egret; Grey Heron; Glossy Ibis; Greater Flamingo; Shelduck; Mallard; Shoveler; Teal; Red Crested Pochard; Pochard; Tufted Duck; White-headed Duck; Marsh Harrier; Common Buzzard; Golden Eagle; Spotted Eagle; Booted Eagle; Osprey; Kestrel; Merlin; Red-legged Partridge; Water Rail; Purple Gallinule; Moorhen; Coot; Crested Coot; Black Winged Stilt; Avocet; Lapwing; Ruff; CommonSnipe; Black-tailed Godwit; Redshank; Greenshank; Green Sandpiper; Mediterranean Gull; Black-headed Gull; Yellow-legged Gull; Woodpigeon; Collared Dove; Kingfisher; Hoopoe; Crested Lark; Swallow; House Martin; Crag Martin; Meadow Pipit; White Wagtail; Stonechat; Blackbird; Cetti’s Warbler; Moustached Warbler; Sardinian Warbler; Fan-tailed Warbler; Chiffchaff; Penduline Tit; Southern Grey Shrike; Magpie; Jackdaw; Spotless Starling; House Sparrow; Reed Bunting.

Saturday, 15 February 2014

A bird (or six) in the bush…..

Hi all,

On Saturday (15th February) I went back to Sierra Espuña again, this time with Mick Brewer who had never been there before, and was keen to see the birds I wrote about last week. We went straight up to the ‘pozos  de nieve de Cartagena', arriving there at around 10:15, and unlike last week, this time there was very little cloud, no wind and the temperature was a very mild 15º.  We must have been the first people to have walked to the ‘pozos’ this morning, as on the way there, we bumped into a herd of around 50 Barbary sheep (or Arruí in spanish, (Ammotragus lervia)).  These animals are normally extremely shy, but although we couldn’t approach too closely, they didn’t seem to be particularly bothered by us, just ambling off as we approached.  We saw some more later on, a more typical sighting, up on top of the rock hills.

Part of the herd of Arruí, or Barbary Sheep

 They didn't seem at all bothered by us

Arruí, or Barbary Sheep, as they are more typically seen
Walking to the ‘pozos’, things were very quiet, to the extent that I hoped we hadn’t made a mistake in coming up here. But when we arrived at the last ‘pozo’, where there is a small water spring, we soon saw that it was worthwhile.  Sitting in the shade of a couple of close bushes, we watched the wild rose bushes for at least a couple of hours.  Apart from when various groups of walkers went through, the bushed seemed to forever have groups of birds in.  Over the time we were there, we had Mistle Thrush, Ring Ouzels (I estimate about 20 this week), Black Redstart, Rock Buntings, Cirl Buntings, Linnets, Goldfinches, at least 8 Crossbills, Chaffinches, Greenfinches, Coal Tits and a single Crested Tit all dropping into the bushes over the spring at some stage.  We also had the strange sight of a Short-toed Treecreeper climbing up the broken walls of one of the ‘pozos’, looking for insects.  We also had a reasonably close group of 6 Chough fly over (and we could hear them most of the time we were there), and also heard at least one Jay – a most pleasant way to spend the morning.

Some of the birds seen during the morning
 Male Ring Ouzel

 Pair of Crossbills with male Chaffinch

 Female Cirl Bunting

 Another male Ring Ouzel

 Female Crossbill

 Female Rock Bunting

 Male Rock Bunting

 Male and female Crossbill

Leaving there just before 1pm, we went over to the other ‘pozos’ (‘pozos de la nieve de Murcia’) some of which have been repaired to show how they used to be used. Sitting in the sun, having a sandwich lunch here with the temperature a warm 19ºC, the only birds we saw of note were a pair of Ravens seen for 5 minutes or so, at one stage flying with half a dozen Choughs. In the background we had the constant song of Coal Tits (which we also had earlier at the other ‘pozos’).

 One of the restored 'pozos de la nieve'

On our way out of the reserve, coming back down from the top, we stopped at an area where the pines have recently been thinned out, leaving just small evergreen oaks.  We checked the cliffs behind these for Peregrines but didn’t see any, but DID have a couple of Firecrests and a single Short-toed Treecreeper here.

 Record shot of one of the Firecrests - it IS there, honest! Right in the centre

Our final stop on the way out of the reserve was at the recreational area of Los Alquarías, In fact we made two stops, as the recreational area was too noisy, so we finished the day stopping slightly further down towards the exit of the reserve, where we had more Crested Tits, Great Tit and Crossbills.

And that’s all for now folks, so good birding!!