Over the last week birds have struggled to come in. With predominantly North West winds (at least in the earlier part of the week) and a couple of days of turbulent weather (Wednesday and Thursday), a few Swallows and House Martins are being seen on a daily basis as are Blue-headed Wagtails, but as yet there’s been no inward ‘rush’ of birds.
As usual for this time of year, I’ve been concentrating on the lighthouse gardens at Cabo de Palos, and on Tuesday morning there was a bit of a movement and I even had a Chiffchaff singing! (Shame the song was of a normal Chiffchaff and not Iberian Chiff!). Other migrants seen were mainly Black Redstarts.
From here I called into the Marchamalo Salinas, and round at the Playa Paraiso side, I had a complete surprise – a bird flew up off of the ground to perch on a fencepost. Assuming it would be a House Sparrow, to my surprise on lifting my binoculars, a Wryneck! Totally out of season, I can only think that it was a local wintering bird that was moving around. It stayed on the post just long enough for me to get a quick photo of it.
Staying on its perch just long enough for a photo, a Wryneck
On Wednesday I was in Torrevieja all day, and on my way back in the afternoon at around 6 pm, on the motorway passing the Rambla de Albujon, I had a group of six Alpine Swifts moving through.
On Thursday morning (when last week I predicted it might be worth a look), I went over to the lighthouse garden again. All I got for my trouble was a male Blue Rock Thrush, and very wet as a heavy long shower passed when I was as far from my car as it’s possible to be! Still, the day had its good side, as I finally received a new lens for my camera that I had been waiting two weeks for.
The next morning (Friday) I was back at the lighthouse gardens, and another day with some movement, as I counted 14 Black Redstarts in total, plus more than the normal Sardinian Warblers (it’s difficult to tell exactly how many are migrants as a few pairs nest here), Robins ‘tack-tack’ing, and on the water just beyond the rocks, a large group of gulls (there must have been a shallow shoal of fish there), mainly Yellow-legged, but which included three adult Mediterranean Gulls in breeding plumage. Again on the way home I called in at the Playa Paraiso side of Marchamalo Salinas, but there was nothing new there, although I did have the amusing sight of a very bossy Meadow Pipit chasing Little Stints around.
Saturday. The whole day to myself, so where to go? Well, with my new lens in my bag itching to be used and not many migrants around, on a day with clear sky and hardly any wind, it stood to reason to go and try out the new lens! And what better place than Sierra Espuña! (Especially as it was rumoured that a Fieldfare had been seen there during the week). I warn you now, if you’re not into lots of photos of birds you might want to move on to another blog, and I apologise for being a bit self indulgent from here on.
For the technically minded, the equipment I was trying out – my ‘old’ NIKON D300S camera body with an AF-S NIKKOR 300mm f/4D IF-ED prime focus lens and TC-20EII teleconverter. The setup without the teleconverter is fully auto focus, but using the teleconverter, manual focus only.
So, setting out at just before 8, I was up at the ‘Pozos de la nieve’ by 9-30 having tramped bins, tripod, hide, two cameras and lenses and food and drink with me! I was knackered by the time I got there! On the last part in the pine woods area before reaching the open field of the ‘pozos’, I heard a Firecrest singing. No time like the present I thought, so stopping, I got out the camera and virgin lens and started snapping away.
One of the pair of Firecrests seen on the way to the 'pozos'
Once I’d had enough of the Firecrests (as if anyone could ever!) I carried on down to the ‘pozos’ and set myself up in my hide and waited, overlooking wild rose bushes, where I was joined by a couple more photographers, José and Antonio. It must have looked very strange to anyone out walking, seeing three miniature tents with large lenses poking out of them arranged around some bushes! I was at the same place as a couple of weeks ago when I’d had all the Ring Ouzels, but on my way down there I hadn’t heard hardly anything, and I presumed they must have gone by now. I was mistaken! They took their time to show themselves, but by the time I’d finished I reckon I’d seen at least 20 different birds. Apart from them, I didn’t have much different from my last visit, with Black Redstarts, Coal, Great, Crested and a single Blue Tit, Mistle Thrushes, Songthrush, Blackbirds, a Robin, Rock and Cirl Buntings, Gold and Greenfinches, Crossbills, a Blackcap, and overhead a flock of around 50 Chough calling and displaying. The Blue Tit WAS different – I think it’s the first one I’ve seen there, and another interesting bird was a thrush that I didn’t see either entering or leaving the bushes, and it kept itself well hidden in the densest part, but I managed a single photo of its head and upper breast head-on, and it seemed to have a distinct cream supercillium and so I presume it was a Redwing. The majority of the photos I took were with the teleconverter (and so manual focus) but later on I moved closer to the bushes and used just the 300mm lens on auto focus. Even this wasn’t easy; the bushes had a lot of wispy branches sticking out of it so even the auto focus couldn’t always handle it. I ended up taking just under 1800 photos in total, but managed to reduce this total to around 250 after hoiking out all the out of focus/covered by branches pictures. The practice was definitely worthwhile even though I still need lots more. Something else I photographed while I was there – a Red Squirrel of the local sub-species (hoffmanni) showed itself for a while, so I was able to get some decent photos of it even though it was a little against the light.
Some of the photos:
The mystery thrush - probably a Redwing
Male Crossbill ...
... and its mate
Another female Crossbill
Male Cirl Bunting
Female Black Redstart
Male Rock Bunting
If you look in the fieldguides, Ring Ouzels (depending on sex) are basically Blackbirds with a white (male) or cream (female) crescent and pale panels on the wings. But as the following sequence shows, they are very much more variable than that.
Ring Ouzels seen at Sierra Espuña
Photos of some of the Ring Ouzels seen during the day
Finally, some photos of the mammals seen during the visit.
The endemic race of Red Squirrel 'hoffmanni'
Barbary Sheep (even though they look like goats) or 'Arruí'
In the afternoon, coming back from Espuña, I called into the sewage farm (EDAR) at Alhama de Murcia, in the hope of seeing some migrants, but apart from numerous House Martins, a couple of Swallows, three Crag Martins and three Sand Martins (which were new for the year), there were only the resident Coots, Moorhens, Little Grebes and Mallards. As it was on the way home, I called in for a quick visit to the Saladares del Guadalentin, but as I’ve found in the past, in the late afternoon there’s hardly anything flying, calling or singing there, so I called it a day and made for home.
And that’s all for now, so until my next report, happy birding!