Literally, ‘Fat fortnight’!
I always think of the last fortnight of April as something special – if the conditions are right, there can be some quite spectacular spring passage falls of passerines. However, for the conditions to be right, there has to be changeable weather, preferably with showers overnight. And as this hydrological year (which runs from the 1st October to 30th September) has in Murcia been the driest for quite a number of years, there seems to be little hope of this happening.
Nationally, interesting birds over the last week have been a pair of Bulbuls feeding three young in Tarifa in the south, a male Pallid Harrier displaying to female Montagu’s Harriers in Zamora in the west, a Black-browed Albatross seen in Galicia, and a Kelp Gull identified in Vizcaya in the north in the same place as an American Herring Gull – what a list of gulls there’s been this winter/spring in the north!
Locally, although conditions haven’t been that conducive for migrants, this last week we have had a couple of good days, namely Wednesday 16th and Sunday 20th.
On Wednesday 16th April I called in at the lighthouse gardens at Cabo de Palos (as I tend to do every morning over this period unless something else comes up). Meeting up with Mick Brewer, there were a few migrants about – single Northern Wheatear, Subalpine Warbler, male Redstart, and three Willow Warblers and a couple of Willow/Chiffs, my second Wryneck of the year and my first Melodious Warblers of the year – but nothing to suggest a major movement.
Wednesday 16th April, morning, Cabo de Palos lighthouse gardens
Male Subalpine Warbler, seen from behind!
... A couple of the many Willow Warblers seen this week ...
A surprise on wednesday morning was this Wryneck
Not so surprising, Pied Flycatcher and yet another Willow Warbler
The consensus of opinion is that this dark looking warbler is a Chiffchaff in the shadows,
and below, a Crested Lark
The commonest Swallow may be Barn, but the Red-rumped's seem to be fast catching up
Just for a change, a couple more Willow Warblers!
And strutting its stuff in the carpark, a White Wagtail
In the afternoon, I thought I’d call in to the arboretum at Calblanque, and to start with there was nothing here to indicate a movement either, but the longer I stayed, the more birds I was seeing. On my way over to Calblanque I had my first Spotted Flycatcher of the year and a male Pied Flycatcher, and by the time I’d finished in the arboretum, I’d seen another 2 Pied Flycatchers, 2 Bonelli’s Warblers, Woodchat Shrike, a singing Western Orphean Warbler, a Wood Warbler, a couple of Hoopoes, two or more Willow/Chiffs, 2 Redstarts, 4 Thekla Larks, a group of 14 Bee-eaters that dropped in for a while, a Woodchat and a Melodious Warbler. Having had such a good couple of hours in the arboretum, I decided to go over to the Salinas in Calblanque to see if there was anything there to add to the list, and on my way over I had a couple of Whinchats and a Roller sitting on top of a tree! At the Salinas there was nothing to add, but I continued to the Cabo de Palos end of Calblanque where I had a male Black-eared Wheatear. Finally, coming out of Calblanque as the sun was getting low, another male Redstart and Pied Flycatcher, and to finish the day off, a Little Owl sitting on top of a telegraph pole!
Wednesday 16th April, afternoon, Calblanque
On my way over to Calblanque, my first Spotted Flycatcher of the year was sitting on a fence waiting for me!
I'm not actually sure if these two photos are of the same or two different birds, but anyway, they're Wood Warblers
One of a couple of Bonelli's Warblers seen during the afternoon
From under the canopy, I could hear Bee-eaters close-by, then I saw this one ...
... and then a whole group of them dropped onto a pita
Leaving the arboretum, I stumbled across this Roller parked on top of a pine tree
At the far end of Calblanque, this Black-eared Wheatear was singing its heart out
As the light started to fade, I came across this Pied Flycatcher in a fig tree ...
... together with this male Redstart ...
... and a second very active Pied Flycatcher
Nearby, a Woodchat Shrike ...
... and my final bird on leaving Calblanque, this Little Owl
Thursday 17th April in the early morning back at the lighthouse gardens and meeting up with Mick Brewer, once again there was very little to write home about – single male Redstart, single male Northern Wheatear, a couple of Red-rumped Swallows and 6+ Swallows.
As Thursday was a local holiday, I went from Cabo de Palos back over to Calblanque, but although there were a few migrants (3 Willow Warblers singing; 3 Spotted Flycatchers; 4 Swallows; 1 Hoopoe; 2 Woodchats and a Whinchat) the majority of the previous day’s birds had disappeared.
Thursday 17th April, Calblanque
At the main carpark in Calblanque, this Spotted Flycatcher was zipping about
In the afternoon, I headed over to the San Pedro del Pinatar Salinas calling in a couple of other places en-route. At the Salinas there were a decent numbers of waders (15 Little Stints, 35 Turnstones, around 45 Sanderling, a group of 15 Curlew Sandpipers) and the Little Terns had arrived (I counted 17 of them), and on the posts in the middle of the Salinas on the right hand side as you go down to the port, 3 Whiskered Terns plus a lot of Common and Sandwich Terns, but no sign yet of Black Terns. Also, still there, around 250 Greater Flamingos.
Thursday 17th April, San Pedro salinas
The Little Terns are in, doing what they do best!
The Slender-billed Gulls are looking their best now with that pinkish flush to the breast
There are still good numbers of Greater Flamingos in the salinas
Wader numbers have been pretty poor of late - here one of the few Little Stints
After being closed all winter, the carpark next to the port has finally re-opened
The Little Terns waiting to be offered fish by their mates
Considering the lack of waders recently, this group of Curlew Sandpipers was a nice surprise
On Good Friday, the 18th, as the lighthouse garden had been quiet of late I started the day with Mick Brewer at the arboretum in Calblanque, but it was VERY quiet there (just a single Spotted Flycatcher, single Willow/Chiff and 5 Woodchats), so we didn’t stay long and went back to the lighthouse gardens. I walked around the external gardens and cliffs with Mick, who then had to go off, but not before seeing a couple of Redstarts, a singing Willow Warbler, a Woodchat and a Bonxie/Pom out to sea, and I bumped into Geoff Stokes in the garden at the base of the lighthouse where there were 9 Northern Wheatears. Chatting to Geoff, I noticed a bunting on one of the ‘pita’s, which I first thought would be an Ortolan, but it turned out to be a much rarer female Cirl Bunting! Only the second time I’ve ever seen one here!
Friday 18th April, morning, Cabo de Palos lighthouse gardens
Still singing like there'll be no tomorrow, male Sardinian Warbler
Typical group of Northern Wheatears on the rocks below the lighthouse
... and a close(r)-up of one of them
I took too long getting my camera set up, so thanks to Geoff Stokes for the use of his picture, of a female Cirl Bunting
From there I drove down the length of the La Manga strip to see if there was anything of interest at the ‘encañizadas’ at the end, where in the way of passerines, I had a male Whinchat, a Spotted Flycatcher and a couple of Willow Warblers. Terns were represented by 38 Commons, a couple of Sandwich and 11 Littles. Of the identifiable waders (they are distant and by now there was quite a heat haze), of interest were 5 Bar-tailed Godwits, a Whimbrel, 10 Turnstones, 3 Curlew, 6 Grey Plovers and 8 Ringed Plovers. But the most interesting bird here, in amongst a flock of 15 Little Egrets, was a Little/Dimorphic Egret cross.
Friday 18th April, morning, Encañizadas
Very smart looking male Whinchat
A 'grey' egret that caught my attention amongst the Little Egrets ...
... a presumed Little/Dimorphic cross
On Saturday, 19th I went with Mick to a place on the western limit of the region of Murcia, the ‘Llanos de Cieza’. An interesting place – to start with it appeared devoid of life but in the 2 ½ hours we spent there, we had quite a reasonable list of birds – Magpie, Black Wheatear, Northern Wheatear, Black-eared Wheatear, Great Spotted Cuckoo, Bee-eater, Swallow, Whinchat, Woodchat Shrike, Southern Grey Shrike, Hoopoe, Crested Lark, Short-toed Lark, Lesser Short-toed Lark (which for Mick was a lifer, but he wouldn’t count it as we never got to see one on the deck to be able to distinguish it from Short-toed – both species were flying around singing, the Lessers much more common than the Short-toeds), Montagu’s Harrier, Swift, Pallid Swift, Dartford Warbler and Spectacled Warbler.
Making our way back we called into the ‘Lagunas de Campotejar’ or EDAR Molina de Segura just west of Molina itself. Here we had Sand Martins, Swallows and Red-rumped Swallows, Reed and Great Reed Warblers, a Cuckoo sitting on an H.T. cable for about 20 minutes, calling almost continually, around 20 Pochard, a pair of Red-crested Pochard, White-headed Ducks, Mallard, Moorhens, Coots and Little Grebes. But the most interesting birds were the herons – we had a male Little Bittern drop into some reeds and a Squacco Heron come out of the same reeds, and further on our walk, 2 Night Herons. Other birds seen were Common Terns, Common Sandpipers, a Little Ringed Plover and a Turtle Dove, and of note was a ‘Viperine Water Snake’ swimming close to the reeds in one of the lagoons.
Saturday 19th April, Lagunas de Campotejar
The Squacco that was stalking the reedbeds
You're right - there's no wings on this one - a Viperine Water Snake
Hiding themselves away in the reeds, a couple of Night Herons
And very showy in the centre of one of the lagoons, a male White-headed Duck
As the previous day had been such an early start, Mick dropped out of the Easter Sunday (20th) visit to the lighthouse garden – I think he wishes he hadn’t now! In the shirt distance from the gates of the garden to the small mound where the radio antennae are, I had 3 Subalpine Warblers and a few Redstarts – something was obviously up!
Well I spent 3 hours there (until there were too many people charging around making lots of noise), going round the lighthouse and all the green areas that I know nearby twice, and in that time I had 5 Sards, 2 Woodchats, at least 8 Subalpine Warblers, a Blue-headed Wagtail over, 15+ Redstarts, 4 Northern Wheatears, 10 Willow Warblers (singing) and 35+ Chiff/Willows (probably mainly Willows), a Nightingale singing in the carpark, a couple of Red-rumped Swallows, 3 Pied Flycatchers, a Melodious Warbler, a female Whinchat, 2 Bonelli’s Warblers (also singing briefly), a Night Heron flying over, and the star birds, at least 5 Ortolan Buntings. I heard them first with that very quiet ‘chip’ call of theirs, and searching for them, almost tripped over them – a group of 4 or more that shot off, but two returned. I managed a few record photos of the two, and then found another tight in a bush – I think he hoped I hadn’t seen him! Continuing my walk, when I returned to the area, they had all gone (probably because of the number of people around), but when I did another circuit of the base of the lighthouse, I found another one. A bird that is probably annual here, but you have to be here on the right day, and this year I was! (Unlike last year when I didn’t see any).
Sunday 20th April, morning, Cabo de Palos lighthouse gardens
A female Subalpine Warbler ...
... and the more brightly coloured male
Once they get going, there's no stopping the Sardinian Warbler
A sub-species of the common Blackbird, the 'lagarto Blackbird' found at Cabo de Palos
has evolved to drop its tail feathers when attacked by cats!
All the birds seemed docile - a sure sign they were knackered!
One of my favourite birds, always reminds me of Portland Bill for some reason, Ortolan Bunting
This Ortolan was hoping I hadn't seen it
A Bonelli's Warbler in a nearby bush
It wasn't all passerines - here a Night Heron that appeared out of nowhere
A bird typical of this time of year, Pied Flycatcher ...
... and another
A much brighter looking Bonelli's Warbler
The last of the Ortolans seen that day (and probably this year!)
Redstarts were also common this day ...
... here a very confiding female
Surprisingly, considering the numbers of other species, this was the only Whinchat I saw
On Monday 21st together with Mick on windy morning, most of the previous days’ fall birds had gone, but we did have a single Turtle Dove which was new, as was a Common Whitethroat and three male Whinchats. A couple of Woodchats were also there together with a couple of Redstarts, 4 Northern Wheatears and 2 Willow Warblers and 4 Willow/Chiffs. Also at the base of the lighthouse we could hear a Common Sandpiper calling somewhere.
Monday 21st April, morning, Cabo de Palos lighthouse gardens
Today, more Whinchats, less everything else
Finally, this morning (Tuesday, 22nd) on a not quite so windy morning, at the lighthouse gardens Mick and I had 3 Woodchats, a single male Redstart, 2 Willow Warblers, a couple of Swallows and the first Robin for a while.
On the way back from the gardens I called into Marchamalo Salinas but the only notable birds were a group a 15 Little Stints and 5 Ringed Plovers.
In the afternoon, I called into the arboretum again at Calblanque, where I had a Nightingale singing in the carpark area, 3 Thekla Larks, 3 Swallows, a Northern Wheatear, 2 Willow Warblers singing, a Hoopoe and 5 Woodchat Shrikes!
Tuesday 22nd April, afternoon, Calblanque
If you see them well, they are not difficult to identify - Thekla Lark
No such problem with these, that literally stick out - Woodchat Shrike
And that’s about it! You’ll note that I haven't mentioned much about the local Salinas and waders, but that’s because whenever I’ve been to the Salinas lately, there’s been very little to see apart from what I had at San Pedro on the 17th.
And that’s it for the last week, so till my next report, good birding, and make the most of the last week of the ‘fat fortnight’ !!