Tuesday, 1 April 2014

Slow but sure

Since my last post I have been to the Cabo de Palos lighthouse gardens most mornings, but the spring passage seems to be on hold at the moment, with just a few birds getting through.  Most of the last week we have had winds from the northwest which does nothing for seeing birds around here, neither passerines nor seabirds. ‘Notable’ birds this week from the lighthouse gardens (which in previous years probably wouldn’t hardly warrant a mention), 6 Robins, 4 Blackcaps, 3 Chiffchaffs, 2 Black Redstarts, a Hoopoe, a Whimbrel and a Little Egret,  on Monday 24th; 16 Chiffchaffs, 4 Black Redstarts, 3 Meadow Pipits, 2 Robins and a Hoopoe on Wednesday 26th; 10 Chiffchaffs, 4 Black Redstarts, 3 Meadow Pipits, 3 Hoopoes, a Swallow, a Blackcap and a Swift sp. (Pallid or Common) on Thursday 27th; 6 Chiffchaffs, 2 Robins, 2 Black Redstarts, a Meadow Pipit and my first Subalpine Warbler of the year, on Friday 28th.

On Thursay after visiting the lighthouse, calling into the salinas at Marchamalo I had a Purple Heron fly in over my shoulder and drop into the small reedbed close to Playa Paraiso.

 Singing 'atope' in the lighthouse gardens, one of the Sardinian Warblers

 Not often as visible as this, one of the Blackcaps that passed through this week

 One of a pair of Crested Larks at the lighthouse

 Still not common yet, one of the Swallows seen

 One of the few residents at the lighthouse, Collared Dove

 On friday 28th, my first Subalpine Warbler of the year

 On the islets just off the cliffs, it's not rare to see Shags

 At Marchamalo salinas, a Purple Heron dropped in

On the morning of Tuesday 25th, for a bit of variety, I took a look at the ‘Encañizadas’ at the end of La Manga strip.  Numbers of birds here have dropped dramatically since my last visit last week, but I still managed to pick out 6 Curlew, 8 Grey Heron, a Spoonbill and my first Northern Wheatear of the year.

At the 'encañizadas', my first Northern Wheatear of the year

On the afternoon of Wednesday 26th, we had our monthly count at the EDAR Beaza (Cartagena sewage farm).  Again here numbers have started to drop – ‘only’ 63 Black-necked Grebes compared with mid-winter totals around the 600 mark.  Apart from them, we had all the usual birds, Little Grebes, Mallards, Shelducks (some of these obviously with a lot of testosterone running through their systems), Teal, Pochard, White-headed Ducks, Coots Moorhens, Black Winged Stilts, Green and Common Sandpipers, Little Ringed Plovers, Common Snipe, Stone Curlews and Kestrel.  Over the lagoons we had House and Sand Martins, and Swallows and Red-rumped Swallows, and my first identifiable Pallid Swifts of the year.  We also had the spectacle of a Peregrine stooping to try to get one of the ducks on the water, but without success.

 On the edge of one of the lagoons, a Green Sandpiper ...

... and a Blue-headed Wagtail

On the Thursday 27th , I went over to the ‘playa de las Llanas’, the beach area south of the port at San Pedro del Pinatar, in a last desperate attempt to see Garganey in Murcia for the year!  No luck with these, but I did come across a Richard’s Pipit there.  I don’t go there often, but I’ve seen Richard’s Pipit there on a few occasions, and I think it’s another wintering site for them.   

Coming off the beach, I had a look at the Salinas, but again there was not a lot there, although a couple of Spoonbills were nice to see.  The majority of the waders I saw seemed to be concentrated in the canal that runs around the Salinas – I had Ruff, Common and Spotted Redshanks, Greenshanks and Common Snipes all in the canal that runs towards ‘El Mojon’.  In the Salinas themselves, there were plenty of Kentish Plovers, a single Little Stint, a few Turnstones plus the usual Avocets and Black-winged Stilts, Shelducks, Flamingos, Audouins, Slender-billed and Yellow Legged Gulls, Black-necked Grebes, Sandwich and Gull-billed Terns, and in the way of passerines, a few Chiffchaff and Blue-headed Wagtails.

 Two Spoonbills that flew in

 In the perimeter canal, a female Mallard that had 12 ducklings

 Also in the canal, one of two Common Snipe

I spent the weekend with a group of birdwatchers from the ‘Sociedad Albacetese de Ornitologia' (SAO) who had come from Albacete to see coastal birds.  The weather forecast was good, with winds finally swinging round to Northeast and then East on the Saturday, and Southwest on the Sunday.  What we hadn’t realised was that the wind was going to be so strong!  Starting at 8am on Saturday morning at the Cabo lighthouse garden, the wind was a force 4-5 NE, so we saw almost nothing of small birds!  We did however have an adult Kittiwake fly over us – the first I’ve seen from land in 4 years – an unexpected addition to the yearlist, We also saw some birds that land-locked Albacete doesn’t get, such as Audouins Gulls, Shags and Gannets.

 At the lighthouse in the morning, the group from SAO checking out the sea

We moved on to the ‘Arenal’ at Los Nietos in the hope of seeing the Richard's Pipits there, although quite honestly I didn’t think much of our chances, as although the wind had dropped a bit by then, it was still quite strong.  But fortune was with us, and we actually saw two birds, one of which performed brilliantly, running around in a clear area, taking short flights and running some more.  Everyone had good views of it through telescopes – their first twitch!

At the Arenal, Los Nietos, the SAO group watching the Richard's Pipit

We had a picnic lunch in Calblanque, passing by the Salinas where there were more Audouins Gulls for them to feast on (not literally of course!).  As they were in a small coach, they had to exit Calblanque by the main track, but I came out via the small hamlet ‘Las Jordanas’ where I had a male Redstart and my first Woodchat Shrike of the year.

 Coming out of Calblanque I had this male Redstart - shame about the twig!

We spent the rest of the afternoon back at Cabo de Palos, but on the cliffs east of the lighthouse, to do a seawatch.  By now the wind had swung right round to SW, but the winds of the morning must have had an effect, as there was a continual movement of Balearic Shearwaters, with  a few Cory’s mixed in, and in the 2 ½ hours we spent there we had 8 Gannets and also 8 Great Skuas, some quite close.  We also had a couple of Razorbill zoom through south.

 In the afternoon, seawatching from the cliffs

On the Sunday (30th), coming out of my house in Los Belones, I had a good group of Common Swifts flying around, my first of this year.  I drove over to meet the Albacete group at the Salinas at San Pedro del Pinatar, as they wanted to concentrate on waders today.  We started off walking around the coastal pines hoping for small birds, but had almost nothing there apart from a couple of Chiffchaffs.  We then wandered slowly around the Salinas themselves, lunching in the ‘Centro de Interpretacion’ (reserve office) garden.  There were certainly more waders around than on my previous visit - for me the most interesting being a single Curlew Sandpiper starting to come into breeding plumage – the first migrant I think I’ve seen this year that has been in advance of previous years.  The group got into the Slender-billed Gulls, and had a couple of breeding plumaged Mediterranean Gulls fly over. The two Spoonbills from my previous visit were still there.  Also, the Sand Martins had arrived and were busy excavating their nestholes.  Under the eves of the roof of the reserve office, there was also a pair of Red-rumped Swallows repairing their nest.

 Red-rumped Swallows in building mode

 Audouins and 2cy. Slender-billed Gull

 The birds come down to drink the 'fresher' water from the canal befor it enters the sea ...

 ... and for a wash.  Here Turnstone, Little Stint and two Sanderlings

 In the main salinas, this Little Ringed Plover dropped in in front of us

 In the canal was this Little Egret in full breeding plumage ...

 ... and a Common Redshank

We finished off the day with a couple of hours at the new ‘wetland’ reserve a little way north of San Pedro.  I know that people will want to go there, so I’ll eventually add it to my ‘Locations’ list.  In the meantime, to get there (from San Pedro) you need to get onto the AP-7 heading north, and come off at the second exit (salida 768) which is signposted ‘Urbanizaciones Campoamor / San Miguel de Salinas / CV941’.  Cross over the motorway following the signs for ‘San Miguel de Salinas’.  From the roundabout on the other side of the motorway it’s about 1 kilometre to the turn-off for the lagoons (the road is straight – where it bears off to the right, the turn-off is on the left).  The turn-off is signposted EDAR PILAR DE HORADADA.  From here it’s about 400 metres to a gated parking area – park here.  You can only enter at weekends.  This was my first visit here, and it’s quite impressive, with numerous small hides overlooking two reed fringed lagoons.  We had numerous Pochard (including a Pochard/Ferruginous Duck hybrid), Shovelers, White-headed Ducks, Shelducks, Coots, Moorhens, Little Grebes and a Purple Heron in the time we were there.

 At the new wetland reserve, floating raft with Pochard and a Pochard/Ferruginous Duck hybrid ...

... and a Purple Heron

 On Monday 31st in the morning I was back to the Cabo lighthouse trail again.  For once, not a cloud in the sky and NO WIND!  But it was pretty much the same with the birds – of note were 2 Black Redstarts, a Robin, a female Chaffinch (uncommon here), a Meadow Pipit and a couple of Swallows.

 In the afternoon I had a trip around local areas, starting with Calblanque, where in addition to all the usual birds, I had a male Redstart, female Subalpine Warbler, Northern Wheatear, and my first Black-eared Wheatear of the year. 

From there I went for a drive through the mining area of La Union, where a surprise bird was a Red-billed Chough sitting on one of the ventilation wells.

 Chough in the mining area of La Union 

My next stop was Cala Reona at Cabo de Palos, which can be good on occasions for migrant passerines.  Here I had a Woodchat Shrike and my second Black-eared Wheatear of the day (and of the year). 

 At Cala Reona, Woodchat Shrike on an overhead cable ...

... and a male Black-eared Wheatear

My last stop of the day was once again at the lighthouse gardens at Cabo de Palos which was still very quiet, but I did see a male and female Common Redstart plus a Robin and Black Redstart.

 In the lighthouse gardens, the Sards still singing well

 A very showy female Common Redstart ...

 ... and a female Black Redstart to compare it with

 The female Common Redstart again ...

... and in a nearby garden area, a male
Finally, this morning (1st April) another trip to the lighthouse gardens, where the only migrants were a single Blue-headed Wagtail over, and a Robin and male Blue Rock Thrush!

 This mornings Blue Rock Thrush looking out to sea ...
 ... and a Robin keeping itself hidden

And that’s about it, so until my next report, happy birding!


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