Thursday, 8 May 2014

Mar Menor (and more) round-up

1st May.  May day.  The whole day off.  So where to go?  Well, fairly predictably I started at the lighthouse gardens at Cabo de Palos, and wasn’t too put off when the only birds of note seen there were a single Northern Wheatear and a Robin!  However, by the time I got to San Pedro Salinas, having stooped off en-route at a couple of normally productive sites which produced nothing, I was getting a little ragged.  Luckily, the Salinas produced reasonable numbers of waders – nothing too special but birds in breeding plumage which are always a delight to behold – such as 18 Curlew Sandpipers, Turnstones, Sanderlings, around 40 Little Stints, 2 Ruff (no these weren’t in breeding plumage – that would be TOO much to expect), a couple of Common Sandpipers, and 8 Kentish Plovers including two newly hatched chicks.

 First stop, Cabo de Palos, and wandering around the cliffs I found these photogenic Linnets

The 'experimental pool' at San Pedro ...

 ... in which, there was a good spread of waders ...

 ... and Little Terns feeding like crazy

 A Kentish Plover chick all ready!
 Even though on migration, the Little Stints were already defending territories

 Always nice to see, Curlew Sandpiper in breeding plumage - here with a Sanderling

 The only two Dunlins I saw, again in breeding plumage

 A male Kentish Plover which was defending its territory against all comers

 Little Stint in display posture - note the hump back

 And on the way home, calling in to the EDAR (sewage farm) of Los Alcazares, in the perimeter canal, my 4th Purple Heron in three days (see my previous post for details of the other three).  And all before lunch!

 Don't know who was more shocked when this Purple Heron shot out of a canal at the side of the track

At Cabo de Palos lighthouse gardens on the following day, Friday 2nd May in the late morning, there were a lot of migrants on view, starting with 38 Northern Wheatears on the rocks around the base of the lighthouse, and walking around surrounding gardens I had a couple of Redstarts (male and female), single Pied and Spotted Flycatchers, and heard a Robin ‘tack’ ‘tack’-ing away.  And overhead were 12 Common/Pallid Swifts, 12 Swallows and 4 Red-rumped Swallows, and 4 Bee-eaters flew through.

As there had been good numbers of waders there the previous day, in the afternoon I returned to the Salinas at San Pedro specifically to take photos (and to gauge how well I could use the manual focus on my camera with the x2 multiplier attached).  After taking around 900 photos, there were about 20 that I liked! 

A selection of the photos I took

 Little Stint in breeding plumage
 Curlew Sandpiper in breeding plumage
 Male Kentish Plover standing guard over its 'playa'
 Breeding plumage Curlew Sandpiper
 Breeding plumage Sanderling
 Common Redshank
 Kentish Plover
 Sandwich Tern
 Breeding plumage Curlew Sandpiper
 Non-breeding plumage Curlew Sandpiper
 Breeding plumage Turnstone
 Curlew Sandpiper and Ruff
 Breeding plumage Little Stint
 Two Dunlin (male and female I think)
 As you can tell, one of my favourites - another b.p. Curlew Sandpiper
 Coming away from the hide, in the low pines, I came across this little chappie

While I was there, I got a call from fellow fanatic birder Tomás Garcia to say that he and Ana Ramón were in the tamarisk area of Marchamalo Salinas (between the Salinas and the go-karts), and that there were a good number of birds there.  Having pretty much photographed everything I wanted to at San Pedro, I beat a hasty path back to Marchamalo to meet up with Tomás and Ana, and together we counted 6 Willow Warblers, at least 2 Bonelli’s Warblers, 8 Wood Warblers (we think the highest count ever recorded together in Murcia), at least 6 Pied Flycatchers, a Tree Pipit, a couple of Hoopoes, and to finish the day, a Roller perched on top of a tree.  Not a bad tally for the last hour of light.

 Being so late in the day, I couldn't get a good clear shot of any of the Wood Warblers

 What a bird to finish the day with - a Roller

And then the sun set!

Saturday the 3rd found me back at the ‘saladares del Guadalentín’ for a good few very productive hours.  Arriving at 08:30 and leaving just before 16:00, and taking an hour and a half out to have a look at the ‘charcos de las Moreras’ near Bolnuevo, driving around the tracks and checking out some of the farm reservoirs and the river valley itself, I managed to see 5 Rollers, 3 Little Bustards, Tree Sparrows, Black Winged Stilts, Little Ringed Plovers, Stone Curlews, a Green Woodpecker, Kestrels, a Short-toed Eagle, a pale morph Booted Eagle, a Golden Eagle, 3 Black-bellied Sandgrouse, a Great Spotted Cuckoo, 2 Hoopoe, 6 Turtle Doves, around 20 Crested Larks, at least 25 Calandra Larks, around 15 Short-toed Larks and around 40 Lesser Short-toed Larks.  Plus the star bird of the outing, a male Rufous Bushchat (or Bush Robin if you prefer) singing its heart out.

 Rear view of a Short-toed Eagle
 Lesser Short-toed Lark - funny how easy it is to see them on the deck when you're not looking for them!
 Pale morph Booted Eagle
 Little Bustard
Calandra Larks in flight
 Everone's favourite, Roller ...
 ... and another ...
 ... and the same bird being buzzed by a Lesser Short-toed Lark! ...
 ... in flight ...
 ... and again
 Male, with female in the background
 Such a colourful bird

The bird of the day - Rufous Bushchat (or Bush Robin)
At the ‘charcos de las Moreras’, there were the usual Mallard, Pochard, White-headed Duck, Little Grebe, Moorhen, Coot, plus a couple of Nightingales and more than a couple of Reed Warblers singing away, and overhead were both Common and Pallid Swifts, Swallows and Red-rumped Swallows and 6 Bee-eaters.   Unusual birds there were two Night Herons roosting on the reeds.
 Record shot of the two Night Herons

Sunday the 4th in the morning saw me back at the lighthouse gardens at Cabo de Palos.  With clear skies and no wind, and early morning temperatures at 15ºC, you really start to get the feeling that the summer’s just around the corner.  Migrants were once again thin on the ground, with just singles of Northern Wheatear and Whinchat, and two Redstarts, although the Swallows and Red-rumped Swallows flying overhead and Common Terns in the bays are now a regular feature.

From here I went over to the Salinas at San Pedro to see if there was any change with the waders, and it was here that I saw a strange sight – a 3rd year Gannet swimming in one of the lagoons.  For it to have been here it can’t have been in good health, and I saw it swim closer and closer, and then haul itself out onto the wall of the lagoon.  One of the regions ‘media ambiente’ agents pulled up and I explained what I had seen.  It seems that someone had noticed the Gannet the day before, and he had been there to try and catch it for a couple of days.  I pointed out where it was and he duly set off, net in hand, and managed to catch it – to be perfectly honest, it didn’t put up much of a fight – it must have been pretty weak.  He took it off to be treated at the local animal recuperation centre.

 Regular breeders at the salinas, Sand Martins ...
 ... and Little Terns

 And an unusual sight there, a 3rd year Gannet ...
 ... but the Black Winged Stilt wasn't impressed by its presence!
 It decided to walk out of the lagoon ...
 ... climbing the wall ...
... where it was met with a 'medioambiente' agent with a net!
Regarding the waders, there was little change – the water level in the end lagoon seemed higher so there were not so many small bays, and the waders seemed to be on the central islands.

Monday 5th Started fairly overcast with an ENE breeze blowing, but this didn’t seem to have had any impact on the birds.  Migrants seen were a single Woodchat Shrike, a Chaffinch, a Robin, a ‘flava’ Wagtail and 18 Northern Wheatears, while a group of Common/Pallid Swifts flew overhead.

Calling into the area of tamarisk at Marchamalo Salinas on my way home from the lighthouse, there were a few more migrants, with Common Whitethroat, Nightingale, a Northern Wheatear, and roosting in the trees, a Purple Heron which took flight on seeing me.  It flew off over the Salinas, doubled back to where I was, and the set off getting ever higher towards the northwest.  My 5th local Purple Heron in less than a week!

 Roosting in the low trees area at Machamalo was this Purple Heron

A further look around the same area later on (in case more birds had come in during the day) only produced a Spotted Flycatcher and Willow Warbler, while over nearby corn fields there were many Swifts, Swallows, Red-rumped Swallows and House Martins feeding.

The 6th May, once again at the lighthouse gardens in the morning, produced just 3 Northern Wheatears and a female Redstart, and an afternoon trip to the San Pedro Salinas wasn’t exactly overly exiting, with the waders still diminishing in numbers (although still good to see Curlew Sandpipers, Sanderling and Little Stints all in breeding plumage).  But nothing new to report there.

The 7th May was again a quiet morning at the lighthouse gardens, with just 9 Northern Wheatears and 3 Willow Warblers as new birds, and a group of Monk Parakeets, a locally common introduced species.

 Probably the noisiest birds you hear locally, Monk Parakeets

 Finishing earlier than normal I decided to call into the tamarisk area of the Salinas at Marchamalo.  The only migrants here were a couple of Willow Warblers, one of which was singing, and out on the Salinas, a single Black Tern flew off towards Cabo de Palos – my first of the year.  Also on the Salinas, a group of 38 Greater Flamingos.

 Part of the band of 38 Greater Flamingos

At lunchtime, with an hour to spare, I decided to call in at Calareona which is round the back of Cabo de Palos where it joins with Calblanque.  This area is quite abandoned and over the years I’ve seen some good birds here.  Today in the short time I was there, I had Woodchat Shrike, Nightingale (actually seen), a female Subalpine Warbler, Spotted Flycatcher, 3 Common Whitethroat and a single Willow Warbler singing.  Maybe I should have stayed longer.....

In the afternoon, as I’d seen the Black Tern at Marchamalo in the morning, I went over to San Pedro Salinas once again.  New here was a Spoonbill (with a white colour-ring but too distant to read), and a female Little Bittern that flew around the reedbeds at the entrance to the Salinas.  Apart from that, it was all as previously – 4 species of terns, around 15 Little Stints, 3 Curlew Sandpiper, 6 Sanderling, a couple of Turnstones etc.etc.

Getting back home around 8pm, I got a call from Tomás Garcia to say that he was at Calareona (where I’d been at midday) with Alvaro and was sure that they’d got an Icterine Warbler showing well on some fences.  So I shot down there, but as happens, five minutes too late!  We spent until it got dark searching for the bird, but no luck.  Another to add to my list of birds that got away!

Having mentioned that the lighthouse gardens had been quiet of late, friends on Isla Grosa (just off the coast of La Manga) who are doing an intensive ringing campaign, said that they’d had a good morning there, with Redstarts, Willow Warblers, Northern Wheatears, Melodious Warblers, Nightingale, Whitethroat, Subalpine Warbler and Garden Warbler, and a European Nightjar.  The only European Nightjar I’ve seen in Spain was a dead one that had obviously hit the wires holding up the antennae at the lighthouse at Cabo de Palos some years ago, so if they were on passage now, that seems a good place to try and see them.  But obviously when it’s dark!  So this morning saw me back at the lighthouse gardens at six in the morning looking for that typical silhouette (assuming that to hear one ‘churring’ would be too much to ask for).  Absolute blank! Nada! Nothing!  I did my full tour around the area finishing at the hour I normally get there, with a result of a single Bonelli’s Warbler, Willow Warbler, female Redstart, and Northern Wheatear. 
Finishing so early, I still had time before work to call in at Calareona in the hope the Icterine Warbler might have stuck around, but again no.  A single female Redstart, a Spotted Flycatcher, and a couple of Willow Warblers were the sum total of migrants there.  My last morning call was at the tamarisk area at Marchamalo Salinas.  Here, at the entrance, a Nightingale was singing its heart out, and on the open fields beyond the tamarisk a Short-toed Lark also singing, but apart from that, nothing else to report, apart from that the group of Flamingos in the Salinas had risen to 53.

 Most of the group of Flamingos in the salinas

And that’s it, so till my next report, good birding – and it’s worth checking out those Kestrels you see on the wires – yesterday the first Red-footed Falcon of the year was seen in the north east of Spain!


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