Monday, 3 March 2014

Spring passage is finally here!!

Over the last week or so, as a prelude to the Spring passage, a few early migrants have been seen in Murcia, with sightings of Great Spotted Cuckoos being seen inland anywhere where there might be Magpies which is their prey species, and the occasional Swallow and House Martin.  This weekend however, the passage really got underway.

On Saturday, 1st March I had an early start, taking my first walk around the lighthouse gardens at Cabo de Palos prior to taking part in the monthly (RAM) seabird census.  As I drove down to the lighthouse, a precursor was a Swallow flying over, and in the garden itself half a dozen Blackbirds, 5 Sardinian Warblers, 9 Black Redstarts, a flock of 6 Meadow Pipits, 3 Stonechats and singletons of Robin and Hoopoe.  Some of the Blackbirds and Sardinian Warblers are resident there, but the rest of the species are wintering or passage birds making their way back north.

On the seabird census in the two and a half hours I was there, there was a steady stream of (mainly adult) Gannets south, some coming very close inshore.  Further out, we had about 12 Great Skuas, mainly singletons, but we did have a group of four together.  There were also quite a few Razorbills heading south.  All of these birds presumably heading out of the Mediterranean.  Flying north, we had a single adult Mediterranean Gull in breeding plumage, a few groups of Balearic Shearwaters, and our first Cory’s Shearwater of the year.  Also, something of a surprise, two Pomarine Skuas flying north together.

Our seawatch point, looking towards 'Islas Hormigas'

 The rocky islets where the gulls and Cormorants perch

On the rocks directly in front of us, apart from the customary Yellow-legged Gulls, we had Audouins Gulls flying around, and both Cormorants and Shags fishing in the water and then later, drying out on the rocks.  I’ve been waiting some time to be able to get a photo of both species together and I finally managed it – in the photo, the different head and bill shapes/thicknesses can clearly be seen.

 To the left, breeding plumaged Cormorant, and to the right, juvenile Shag ...

 ... and here the same adult Cormorant with an immature (Cormorant)

 It's a favorite resting spot for both Cormorant and Yellow-legged Gulls

Also on the rocks was the Kestrel that thinks it’s an Elenora’s Falcon!  It sits on the rocks continually keeping an eye out for big and small birds – the big birds (such as Yellow-legged Gulls) because they chase it off, and the small birds as prey.  We saw a male Stonechat arrive on the rock, probably absolutely exhausted from its journey, and with a couple of minutes it had to fly for its life with the Kestrel behind it.  We don’t know what the result of the chase was – the Kestrel returned about 10 minutes later to its watchpoint – maybe after a small snack!

 The Kestrel that's continually alert for any small passerines that may come in

Coming back from Cabo de Palos, I called into the Marchamalo Salinas.  On the La Manga side, the water levels were too high for most waders, and the only ones I saw were Avocets and Black Winged Stilts.  There were also 18 Shelducks, and 12 Grey Herons resting on the lagoon walls.
Around the other (Playa Paraiso) side of the Salinas, there was more about, with a flock of 16 Little Stints, 4 Little Ringed Plovers and 4 Kentish Plovers.

Prior to lunch I just had time for a quick call into Calblanque and the ‘Salinas de Rasall’, where I had 3 Chiffchaff singing, and where the midday Audouin’s Gull flock had built up to 210 birds.  In amongst them was the Common Gull, and a 4th winter Lesser Black-backed Gull (not all that common in Murcia!).

 Not exactly rare, but neither common in Murcia, Lesser Black-backed Gull ...

 ... seen here with a preening Audouin's Gull

 Audouin's Gulls number really build up during March

 Keeping aloof, the Common Gull that accompanies the Audouin's

In the afternoon I took a stroll around Monte Cenizas (at the back of the La Manga Club, before reaching Portman), but there was very little to see, although I did have 3 more Chiffchaffs, and saw my first Long-tailed Tits of the year!

On Sunday morning I went over to Calblanque again mid morning, and had 272 Audouins Gulls at the Salinas (strange to think they were almost extinct 50 years ago), together with the Common and Lesser Black-backed Gull.  Although I didn’t count every one, I certainly got the impression that there were a lot more Stonechats around here than is normal.  I also got very good views of a pair of Thekla Larks that landed in front of the car.

 One of a pair of Thekla Larks that dropped in front of me

 For those that don't know Calblanque ...

 ... a couple of general scenic shots - in the mid-distance, the salinas ...

 ... where the Audouin's come in to roost - here with the Common Gull

 Although there's a lot of Audouin's, there's room for a lot more

 A pair of Shelducks, which also make use of the salinas

Coming out of Calblanque, I called in for a quick visit to the Playa Paraiso side of Marchamalo Salinas.  I had much the same as the day before, but there were additional birds, Meadow Pipits, White Wagtails, and my first Blue-headed (Yellow) Wagtails of the year.

 A couple of the migrants that pass through the salinas - here Little Ringed Plover ...

 ... and here, my first Blue-headed Wagtail of the year



  1. Hi Richard, some more rings for you. They are all on Audouin's Gulls seen at Calblanque salinas yesterday Sunday March 9th. I'm sure you already have them seeing as you read them often. First one. BCON. Black letters on white ring, right leg read from top down and small silver grey ring on left leg.
    AUA2 on right leg ,black letters on white ring read from bottom up. Left leg small silver
    / grey ring.
    AW6B Black letters on white ring read from bottom up on right leg. Small silver / grey ring on left leg.
    BB8Z or 2, I think Z. Black letters on white ring read from bottom up on left leg . Small silver / grey ring on right leg.
    I hope these are of interest.
    There wasn't much going on at Cabo de Palos , I think the wind was coming from the wrong direction. Geoff.

    1. Hi Geoff, thanks for the ring details. They were all ringed as pulli (chicks) at the La Mata lagoon in Alicante, BC0N on 01/06/2009; AUA2 on 21/06/2006; AW6B on 20/06/2007 and BB8Z on 12/06/2008. Seems like most of the more northerly breeding birds have moved on now, leaving the more 'local' birds behind.
      I was at Cabo myself on Sunday morning, but as you say, not much there - only birds of interest were a male Blackcap and a couple of Gannets.
      Regards, Richard.

  2. Thanks Richard, all very interesting for me and maybe one day I will find that rare one.