Monday, 10 March 2014

The winter birds are off!

After writing last week how the spring migration has begun, this week spring/summer visitors have been few and far between, and the majority of migrants have been winter visitors making their way north.

On a national scale, the major movements have been of Common Cranes and Black Kites heading north.  At Gallocanta, which is THE major stop-off for Cranes before they cross the Pyrenees heading for more northerly latitudes, the single Sandhill (or Canadian) Crane that has been seen over the past couple of years now, was once again spotted amongst the thousands of Common Cranes for a couple of days, and then on one day, a massive group of 40,000 Cranes took off not to be seen again.  That must have been some spectacle, both the seeing and the hearing of them. 
News from Tarifa in the south has been that there have also been good movements of raptors and other soaring birds across the straits of Gibraltar, and at other points of the south coast, both Subalpine Warbler and Bee-eater have been seen.

In this coastal neck of the woods, the last week has been typified with sunny days but with cold NE or NW winds – not the sort to entice the summer visitors.  Last Tuesday (4th March) I paid an early morning visit to the lighthouse gardens at Cabo de Palos.  There were some signs of movement, but as I’ve already said, mainly of winter visitors.  Plenty of Black Redstarts, and a few Crag Martins, Stonechats, Blackbirds, Meadow Pipits, Sardinian Warblers and Chiffchaffs and a singles of Robin, Greenfinch and Serin. On the way home I called into the Playa Paraiso end of Marchamalo salinas where I had 7 Little Stints, 2 Little Ringed Plovers and a couple of male Blue-headed Wagtails.

 One of the Little Ringed Plovers ...

... and one of the Blue-headed Wagtails 

In the afternoon, I went round the western end of the Mar Menor, where in one of the farm reservoirs, there were still a group of five Ferruginous Ducks, which from what I could see, were all males.
 Two of the five Ferruginous Ducks ...

... I couldn't get all five in the same shot, just four together
Having a look on the Mar Menor itself, things there have now quietened down considerably, with just 4 Greater Flamingos, 18 Black Necked Grebes and only 10 Great Crested Grebes, and a single male Common Pochard.  As I was there and it was the right time of day, I stopped for a while at the Marina de Carmoli and had three Marsh Harriers hunting over their roost, and surprisingly, the adult female Pallid Harrier, which I thought would have gone by now.

On Thursday afternoon (5th March), I thought I’d have another look at the park in Santa Ana on the other side of Cartagena for the Redwings that had been there the week before, but no luck with them – I think they’ve definitely gone.  What I did see there though, something I haven’t seen for a number of years now, was a juvenile Crossbill which was calling from a branch almost over my head for a few minutes.  I’d forgotten just how ‘spotty’ they are!

Juvenile Crossbill in the park at Santa Ana

From there I went over to the Salinas at San Pedro del Pinatar in the hope of seeing Common Scoter on the sea just to the north of the port.  I had no luck with these either, but did have in the 15 minutes or so that I was there, 15 adult Gannets fly south.
Waders were pretty thin on the ground at the Salinas, the only numbers of note being of Avocets and Black Winged Stilts, plus singles of Spotted Redshank and Little Stint, and a group of eight Black-tailed Godwits and three Ruff.

 One of three Ruff seen at San Pedro salinas

A single Spoonbill flying over me into the lagoons was very nice though.  Moving round to El Mojon, there were the usual Turnstones and Sanderlings on the beach, and a couple of small groups making 60 in total, of Cormorants flying off out to sea, looking like they wouldn’t be returning.   A single Bluethroat along the canal was a nice find too – I would have thought that these too would have gone by now.

At Marchamalo Salinas (Cabo de Palos) water has once again started to be pumped in – to the extent that the main lagoon on the Cabo de Palos side is now too deep for smaller waders, and the best place to see them is in the afternoon from the Playa Paraiso side.  On Thursday afternoon (6th March), I had a group of 21 Little Stints plus 4 Little Ringed and 4 Kentish Plover there.

On Friday, 7th March I took an early afternoon walk around the lighthouse gardens at Cabo de Palos.  As seems to be the norm at the moment, the afternoons are very quiet and the only birds of note were a group of five ‘Spotty’ Starlings in amongst the Spotlesses, and a male Blue Rock Thrush, plus a few Black Redstarts.

 Amongst the Spotless Starlings, still a few of their 'Spotty' cousins

A male Sardinian Warbler giving alarm when a cat was trying to find its nest

 On the rocky area by the seawatching point, this Blue Rock Thrush dropped in ...

 ... and on a nearby fence post was this male Black Redstart

Later at the sailing club at Los Urrutias, the Great White Egret was once again present, together with the Avocet that has decided to make the place its home, and a few Slender-billed and Black-headed Gulls and a solitary Sandwich Tern, and along the beach a couple of Little Ringed Plovers.

 Little Ringed Plover along the beach ...

 ... while out in the Mar Menor this Great White Egret was hunting

The now resident Avocet, together with Slender-billed Gulls and a Sandwich Tern

From there, I took a walk along the rambla de Albujon.  The reeds that were cut a few months ago are growing well now, and there I had a couple of Green Sandpipers and Little Ringed Plovers, 8 Common Snipe plus 4 Blue-headed Wagtails, 5 Swallows, at least 2 Water Pipits, at least 5 Meadow Pipits, a male and female Reed Bunting, Kingfisher and at least 15 Chiffchaffs.
Finally on Sunday (9th March), I took an early wander around the lighthouse gardens again at Cabo de Palos, but the only birds of note were a male Blackcap and a couple of Gannets out at sea.  From there I went over to the ‘Arenal’ at Los Nietos (between Los Nietos and Los Urrutias), and despite the wind that got up, I heard and saw one Richard’s Pipit.

So here’s hoping that this week we might have some decent arrivals of summer migrants (and if the weather forecasts are right, Thursday morning might be worth a look although possibly wet and windy).



  1. Hi Richard , I thought you would like to know that this morning at 9,30 a Great spotted Cuckoo flew passed me about 25 feet away flying west. I am in Pinar de Campoverde and the nearest Magpies around Torremendo.

  2. Hi Richard,some Redstarts at Cabo de Palos this morning and a few Swallows seen.