Wednesday, 30 April 2014

Is it all over?

The last week of April is normally a good week for passerine passage migrants, and this last week didn’t disappoint!  Together with Mick Brewer, I’ve been at the lighthouse gardens at Cabo de Palos every morning apart from Saturday 26th, when we took a trip to the ‘saladares del Guadalentin’ – more about that later.

Carrying on from my last blog entry, Wednesday 23rd wasn’t a spectacular morning, with just 6 Willow Warblers, 5 Northern Wheatears and Swallows and Red-rumped Swallows on our walk, but the paucity of birds was made up by us seeing a group of at least five dolphins (later identified as Bottle-nosed) in the sea between the lighthouse and Isla Grosa.

 Bottle-nosed Dolphins off the lighthouse

Thursday 24th there was a little more about, with 9 Tree Pipits flying over, 9 Northern Wheatears, a female Subalpine Warbler, a Woodchat Shrike, a Nightingale heard singing, 20+ Swifts, Swallows and Red-rumped Swallows, and out to sea, a raft of at least fifty distant Balearic Shearwaters sitting on the water.  But the star bird of the day was something I wouldn’t have considered likely to see there in my wildest dreams – a Nuthatch!  Any type of migratory rarity I would consider as possible, but a species that is definitely NON-migratory!  After seeing it, I checked up on Corsican Nuthatch just in case, but no.....

 Common at this time of year - Northern Wheatears ...

... and severely unusual - a Nuthatch!

Returning there at midday, there had obviously been some more movement during the morning as I had a couple of Common Whitethroats, a Pied Flycatcher and male Common Redstart whilst ambling around.

Friday the 25th there was a lot more movement, with Tree Pipits on the deck below the lighthouse itself, having to keep an eye out for the pair of Kestrels which were trying to pick them off, diving on them, 8 Pied Flycatchers, Whinchat, 2 Turtle Doves, 3 Woodchats, 5 Redstarts, Nightingale, Common Whitethroat, a couple of Willow Warblers, and the star bird of the day, a Rufous Bushchat.

 A selection of the birds seen during the 25th

Sunday the 27th there was more movement, with 4 Tawny Pipits flying over (luckily, I’d checked out their call prior to going out in the morning, having heard that one had been seen there the previous day and so instantly recognised the call as they flew over), 11 Northern Wheatears, 2 Nightingales, 3 Woodchats, 8 Redstarts, 6 Pied Flycatchers, 1 Spotted Flycatcher, a couple of Willow Warblers, Melodious Warbler, 5 Whinchats and a Common Whitethroat.  I stayed on the Sunday till about 12:30, not expecting to go back there that day, but on receiving a phone call from Mick to say that he had returned and seen a male Ortolan Bunting, I was back down there for a couple of hours in the evening, where I had a lot more Redstarts (15), 4 Woodchats, 8 Whinchats, 4 Pied Flycatchers, 3 Northern Wheatears, 2 Common Whitethroats, 2 Nightingales, 2 Melodious Warblers and  finally caught up with the Ortolan Bunting.

  A selection of the birds seen during the 27th

On Monday 28th there had obviously again been some movement, with 6 Pied Flycatchers, 2 Woodchats, 4 Northern Wheatears, 3 Whinchats, 5 Redstarts, 2 ‘flava’ Wagtail flyovers, a Bonelli’s Warbler, Nightingale, 2 Robins, 4 Melodious Warblers, 3 Willow Warblers and a Common Whitethroat.  As we seemed to be seeing birds coming in, I returned at lunchtime for a few hours, and saw more (3) Common Whitethroats, 6 Pied Flycatchers (possibly different to the mornings birds), 5 Redstarts and a couple of Woodchats.

  A selection of the birds seen during the 28th

Tuesday 29th was Micks last day, and the impression we got was that there were much fewer birds about, ‘only’ 6 Northern Wheatears, 4 Redstarts, 3 Pied Flycatchers, a Nightingale heard, and singles of Willow and Melodious Warblers, Whinchat and Hoopoe (this latter the first for a while).  This may have been due to the whole of Cabo de Palos being shrouded in a fog bank at first light, which slowly burnt off, and at one stage from the rocks below the lighthouse we could see a white rainbow, something very rarely seen.
We also had a small flock of Shags on the sea between the lighthouse and La Manga, and a couple of Night Herons fly over.

 At first light, the lighthouse was barely visible ...
... and at one stage we could see a white rainbow
The flock of immature Shags that gathered off the rocks
On Wednesday 30th I was back on my own, and apart from Northern Wheatears (of which I saw 11), migrant numbers were definitely down, with just 3 Redstarts, and singles only of Subalpine Warbler, Whinchat, Nightingale and Melodious Warbler, this latter singing in a private garden! And not a single flycatcher of any type.

Due to spending so much time at the lighthouse gardens, I only had time for a couple of other trips out.  As I mentioned earlier, Mick and I went over to the ‘saladares del Guadalentín’ on Saturday, 26th, meeting up for a while with Paul Sparkes who lives nearby and knows the area like the back of his hand.  It was a perfect day to be there, with a little cloud to start with and no wind at all.  We spent the morning and early afternoon doing as I normally do when over there – driving around the mud tracks, stopping every so often whenever we came across anything of interest.  We ended up with a minimum of 35 species seen during the day, the more interesting being Stone Curlew, Short-toed Lark, Lesser Short-toed Lark (on the ground finally), Calandra Lark, Southern Grey and Woodchat Shrikes, Turtle Dove, Red-rumped Swallow, Bee-eater, Tree Sparrow, Little Bustard, Black-bellied Sandgrouse, Roller (the first seen there this year), Great Spotted Cuckoo, Lesser Kestrel, Spectacled Warbler and Short-toed Eagle.  An excellent day out, especially as we saw many of the birds early on but distantly, but later in the day caught up with most of them much closer.

 Black Winged Stilt chicks in a farm reservoir ...

 ... also nesting there, Little Grebes

 Not quite as vocal and obvious as a month or so ago, Great Spotted Cuckoo

 Record shot of the Short-toed Eagle

 Female and male Lesser Kestrel

And we managed to get relatively close to a Little Bustard!

My only other trip out was together with Diego Zamora and Antonio Fernandez-Caro on Tuesday 29th in the afternoon when we did our monthly ‘duck-count’ at the EDAR Beaza (Cartagena sewage farm).  Numbers here in general have gone down significantly, this not being a breeding location for many birds (just Little Grebes, Black Winged Stilts and Little Ringed Plovers) but we were surprised to see quite a large number of male Pochards, a couple of Wood Sandpipers (the first I’ve seen this year) and going round the lagoon, we flushed three Purple Herons that flew off north – we think the first record of the species there.

 First ever at Beaza - three Purple Herons together

And that’s it for the week – passerine passage will now be declining but there should still be numbers of Melodious Warblers and Spotted Flycatchers to come through, and waders should start building up too.

And that’s it, so till my next report, good birding – this week coming I’ll be concentrating on waders, so I’ll let you know how things go!