Sunday, 18 May 2014

Saturday 17th May - Up West for the day

Normally on a Saturday, I take the opportunity of having the whole day off to go out and about in Murcia.  As last Saturday I stayed local at Cabo de Palos to do the monthly RAM seawatch, I decided that this Saturday I would go to the extreme opposite side of Murcia, and planned accordingly.  Hence alarm set for 4am, and I set out at 4-30am, arriving a little before dawn at Cieza (on the borders of Murcia / Albacete). My reason for being here so early was because it is a breeding area for one of birders ‘holy grail’ birds, the Dupont’s Lark (for obvious reasons, I cannot give the exact location of the birds).  This is a bird that has a reputation of being particularly hard to come across; in ‘Europe’ the favourite places to see them is Zaragoza in the north of Spain, and locations in Morocco. But in actual fact here in Spain, it is not a particularly rare bird, just very localized – but the fact that it tends to sing prior to dawn and after dark makes it difficult to see. I only wanted to hear the birds, so getting to the area where I last saw and heard the birds with certainty in 2009, I switched the car engine off, and listened.  And almost immediately I had at least 3 birds singing in close proximity, with that haunting whistle of theirs – the only birds I could hear apart from the occasional ‘churr’ of a Red-necked Nightjar.  I remained here until around 6-30am.  The birds continued to sing until about 6-20, but by then the eastern sky was beginning to light up, and all the other birds dawn chorus drowned out the Duponts.  Mainly Crested and Lesser Short-toed Larks, but also with Blackbirds and Sardinian Warblers, and the occasional continued rattle of a Red-necked Nightjar and Magpies.

Leaving the area, I made my way cross country to Jumilla.  The roads were very quiet at that hour of the morning, and I was travelling quite fast, when I noticed a bird on an electric cable alongside the road that set off alarm bells in my brain!  Automatically I thought ‘not a pigeon or dove, but very dark – worth stopping and backtracking’.  So I did.  And it paid off – what I had seen was the back view of a female Red-footed Falcon!
Although the light was good for the time of day, (it was still only ten past seven), and not the best light for photos, I took a few anyway for record purposes and watched the bird for a while.  It seemed pretty settled on its cable, so I carried on, with the intention of returning later on to try and get some decent photos of it.

 Dark bird on a wire ...

... which turned out to be a female Red-footed Falcon

I reached Jumilla and went on to the Yecla Plains, arriving at eight o’clock.  Here I spent the rest of the morning and early afternoon, no particular game-plan apart from trying to see Great Bustards (as normal for this species I drew a blank), but in my general driving around, I did manage to see a good number of quality birds including Crested, Short-toed and Calandra Larks, Rock Sparrows, Lesser and Common Kestrels, Woodchats and Southern Grey Shrikes, Common Buzzard, Black-bellied and Pin-tailed Sandgrouses, Great Spotted Cuckoos, a Tawny Pipit and a pair of Golden Orioles.  One of the advantages of being out in the field on your own is that you can stop as often and for as long as you want, and I took full advantage of this when a Calandra Lark landed not in a field thick with undergrowth as they normally do, but in the edge of a field planted with wheat, which due to the lack of rain hereabouts for the last six months or so, was having a troubled time trying to grow.  It was about six metres from the car window, so I stopped a good while to photograph it and study it in general.  Then in the same field, Short-toed Larks seemed to appear out of nowhere, and although a little more distant, I did the same with them.

 A couple of shots of the Calandra Lark that landed at the side of the track

 Short-toed Lark carrying either prey or nesting material!

 A more typical shot of Short-toed Lark

On another occasion while driving around, I spotted the familiar shaped ‘lump’ in a field of a sandgrouse, once again not too far from the car at the edge of the road.  Expecting it to scuttle off as they normally do, I was surprised when it (a female Pin-tailed Sandgrouse) didn’t and it allowed me to take some photos with both cameras – the Nikon for quality, and the Lumix for distance (I say it wasn’t too far from the car, but neither was it mega-close).  On getting home I was quite keen to see the quality of the photos, and so when I downloaded the Nikon onto my computer, I was, to use a colloquial expression, gobsmacked, when I saw that to the left of the bird was another, male bird! I had no idea that it was there at the time!

 Pin-tailed Sandgrouse at the side of the road - 
I had no idea the bird on the left was there until I downloaded the photo!

 The female bird, taken with the 'LUMIX' camera

Another quality moment was when driving around up a lane, with an olive orchard on one side and groups of apricot trees on the other, out of the apricot trees shot an image of green followed rapidly by another of yellow and black – my first Golden Orioles of the year, the male chasing the female, seen mega-rapidly but leaving a real impression on the eyes!

 Some other sights at Yecla - here a Mistle Thrush ...

 ... Goldfinch ...

 ... and Woodchat Shrike - now relatively common

 Nothing special here - I just liked the combination of colours!

Time passed all too quickly, and it was evident I wasn’t going to find my ‘Avutardas’ (Great Bustards), so my thoughts turned back to the mornings sighting of the Red-footed Falcon, so coming out of the fields at Yecla, I set off back to Jumilla and then on to Cieza (obviously checking all the fields on both sides of the road ‘just in case’ a Bustard was there).
Getting back to where I had seen the Red-footed Falcon earlier, you’ve guessed it – absolutely no sign!  I searched around for a while, but then decided that the sighting and photos of the morning would have to be good enough, and I carried on to my next stop, the river Segura, at Archena.

There is a very picturesque riverside walk here, and it is a very good place to have a sandwich lunch, which I proceeded to do. Why here rather than anywhere else, you may ask. Well apart from the walk along a river bank (something you can’t do in the coastal areas of Murcia unless you consider the ‘rambla de Albujon’ a river, which I don’t), I knew that in the season there should be Western Olivaceous Warblers about.  And I struck lucky – they must have been new arrivals but I had at least four of them singing (they sound a little like a Reed Warbler but more musical and tend to sing from the interior of the canopy, not reeds).  Seeing them is another thing however – they tend to move about a lot, but with more than a bit of patience, I finally managed to nail down a couple.  When you see them, they appear like a grey version of a Reed Warbler, but it’s their bill that gives them away – very broad based, and when they sing, the interior of their mouth is all yellow, not the orange/yellow of a Reed Warbler. 

 A typical view of Western Olivaceous Warbler, hidden in the canopy

 Luckily, they do occasionally come out to sing. Here you can see the mouth colour
 They seem to prefer inside the canopy though

 Here you can see another identification feature - the width of the bill base

 Another photo of a singing bird

While searching out the Western Olivaceous’s, I heard another call that I recognised from the reedbeds around the Mar Menor in the winter, Penduline Tit.  Following it back to its source, there was the tit together with its partner and its nest.  It’s the first time I’ve ever seen the nest ‘in the flesh’ and it’s an amazing construction, being blown about by the wind, without falling into the river below.  In the same general area I also heard the call of a Wryneck but didn’t manage to see it.  Apart from that, there were a couple of Nightingales singing on and off, and several Spotted Flycatchers about (this is obviously a breeding area for them), and a very confiding Night Heron in the river.

 Some general views - here the riverside path with the river on the right
 The river is fringed by reedbeds, Tamarisk bushes and Eucalyptus trees, plus a few pines
 Here a weir, where the Night Heron was hanging out ...

 ... as you can see from the photo, a fairly confiding Night Heron ...

 ... permanently keeping an eye out for prey ...

... oblivious to people

 Other birds on the riverside promenade were this Spotted Flycatcher ...

 ... a recently fledged White Wagtail ...

... and a Penduline Tit diving in and out of its nest

Leaving here at about 16:50, I called in at the other side of the A-30 motorway, to the EDAR Campotejar (Molina de Segura sewage farm), arriving about 20 minutes later.  Here I did a watch from the tower hide for twenty minutes, and did a quick circuit of the lagoons, where of interest I saw 14 Red Crested Pochard (including nine ducklings), Red Rumped Swallows, Sand Martins, a male Little Bittern, and a group of six Bee-eaters fly over.  Finishing at around 6pm, feeling quite tired by now, I decided it was time to head for home!

 Mother Red Crested Pochard out with the kids!

 The ever present male White Headed Ducks

And that was the end of my Saturday outing, so until my next blog entry.......



  1. What a great days birding. This is why we do it and you do put the time in and this is the result.

  2. Nice to see yoy blog.Some of those will be lfers for me like the olivacios warbler and the red footed falcon (sometime appears in muy region Navarra but I havent had an encounter yet).
    Interesting fhoto of the confiding Night Heron
    Saludos camperos!

  3. Sound's like a fantastic day out - difficult to top that!.

    I understand the discretion around the Dupont's - have you visited/heard of anyone visiting the "traditional" site nr Sierra Espuna with success?

    1. Hi Steve,
      I know the site you're talking about - if I remember rightly, it's mentioned in an english booklet of the birds of the Costa Blanca, published last century! I've tried checking out the site on several occasions over the years, never with any success, and talking to local birders, it seems the land usage has changed quite dramatically since they were last seen there - although there is still some spartina grass on the hills (its favorite habitat). Neither have I ever seen them mentioned in the 'Anuario Ornitologico de la Region de Murcia' (Annual Murcia Bird Report), so I personally think that they are extinct there.
      Regards, Richard.

    2. Thanks Richard,
      That’s a shame as “min 116” birds were recorded there in 1996. Just goes to show how quickly things can change for species with specific requirements.
      Kind regards, Steve

    3. WOW - that's a lot of birds - I'd be interested in further details of the record, as I've never seen it in any of the Murcia literature.
      Regards, Richard.

  4. Its in the bowels of the Birdlife International site:

    Reading it again it actually claims 118 PAIRS.