Saturday, 7 June 2014

Spring Migration summary 2014, Cartagena coast

 I’ve not written for a while, and what with a visit to see family in the UK and then suffering a bad cold (probably the only thing you can get free with Ryanair), neither have I been out in the ‘campo’ much recently.  So in order to let people know I’m still alive, I thought I’d write a summary from my point of view, of the Spring passage this year.  I’ve put ‘Cartagena coast’ in the heading, but this is only because as well as visiting principally the lighthouse gardens at Cabo de Palos, I did make a few visits to the ‘encañizadas’ area at the end of La Manga strip, and also Calblanque, which is just round the corner from Cabo de Palos, on the way towards Cartagena.

I would like to thank all the people who added to my own sightings of birds, and also in particular to Mick Brewer who accompanied me on many of the visits whilst he was out here.

From the 1st March to the 13th May (74 days), I paid visits to the Cabo de Palos lighthouse gardens on 55 days (with two visits, morning and evening on 5 occasions), to Calblanque (principally the ‘arboretum’ next to the large car-park near the beach down from the information centre) on 22 days, and to the ‘encañizadas’ at the end of La Manga strip, viewing over towards San Pedro del Pinatar on 5 days.

Where are we? The arrow marks the spot

The Mar Menor, showing the migration points


The 8th April started with thick fog ...
The most noticeable thing about the weather this Spring was how dry it was (in fact, it has been the driest winter/spring for 75 years in this corner of Murcia).  The only wet day in March was on the 13th when there were heavy rain showers.  In April, there was some rain overnight on the 2nd  / 3rd , and light drizzle on the morning of the 11th. On the 8th, there was dense fog to start with, clearing rapidly, and on the 24th and 29th there was also coastal fog.
... as did the 29th April
During most of March, the wind was prominently North-Westerly or North-Easterly, sometimes quite strong, with a few days of South-Westerlies in the middle of the month (15th – 17th), on the 24th and then again from the 29th to the end of the month.  April was more variable, with more typical South-Westerly winds or no wind at all towards the end of the month.

As noted in my article summarising the birds seen at the lighthouse gardens 2009 – 2012, birds seen in this small area tend to be ‘here today, gone tomorrow’, due to disturbance and the lack of standing water in the area.  Main causes of disturbance here are feral cats (up to 25 seen in the area this spring) and human.


 The main cause of disturbance and probable predation are the feral cats that abound in the area ...

... and there is a lot of human disturbance in the area as well

Notable Species
For me, the Spring migration was notable for five species.  Pied Flycatcher, Tree Pipit and Wood Warbler for the sheer numbers seen, Ortolan Bunting for being seen at all, and a Nuthatch for being the most unlikely species seen at a migration point.

Winter visitor moving north - Blackcap ...

... and Black Redstart

Migration Summary 
As would be expected, in the early passage period, the birds seen were mainly winter visitors (such as Robins, Black Redstarts, Chiffchaffs, a few Blackcaps, Sardinian Warblers, Blackbirds, Meadow Pipits, White Wagtails) making their way north, or altitudinal visitors (such as Crag Martins).
Summer visitors didn’t start showing until later than normal, with the first Swallow on 11th March, first Redstart on the 17th March and the first Northern Wheatear (at the encañizadas) on the 25th March, and migrants were generally scarce through much of March, possibly due to the predominance of a northerly airstream.
There was a small ‘fall’ of migrants at the lighthouse gardens on the 27th March with 10 Chiffchaffs, a single ‘flava’ Wagtail over, Meadow Pipits, 4 Black Redstarts, 3 Hoopoes, Robins, and a first Swift/Pallid Swift of the year.

On the 28th March, the first Subalpine Warbler of the year

Another small ‘fall’ on the 28th produced 6 Chiffchaffs, 8 Sardinian Warblers, Robins, Black Redstarts and the first Subalpine Warbler of the year.

At Calblanque on the 29th March, Redstart ...
... and at Calareona, Woodchat Shrike

The 29th March was particularly windy in the morning (from the Northeast), and produced an adult winter plumaged Kittiwake over the lighthouse rocks, and in the afternoon from the seawatching spot just east of the lighthouse, a good sea passage in the 2 ½ hours spent there, of 200+ Balearic Shearwaters, 3 Cory’s Shearwaters, 8 Great Skuas, 2 Razorbill, 8 Gannets and 25+ Sandwich Terns.   

In the middle of the day, a visit to Calblanque produced a male Redstart and the first Woodchat Shrike of the year.

Also at Calareona on the 31st, Black-eared Wheatear
The 31st March was sunny and windless, but produced very little in the way of migrants from the lighthouse gardens in the morning, but a midday visit to Calblanque produced Redstart, Subalpine Warbler, Chiffchaffs, 25 Meadow Pipits in a flock, Northern Wheatear and a male Black-eared Wheatear (this latter being the first of the year).
Blue Rock Thrush, normally seen at this time of year

Whimbrel wandering around the cliffs on 2nd April
On the 1st and 2nd April at the lighthouse gardens, there was very little, the only birds of note being a male Blue Rock Thrush on both days, and a Whimbrel wandering around the seawatching rocks on the 2nd.  A quick visit to Calblanque on the 2nd produced an early (by about a week) male Pied Flycatcher.

On the 3rd April, another small fall, with Chiffchaffs, Redstart, Common Whitethroat, Blackcap, Robin and Swallow at the lighthouse gardens, and the first Bonelli’s Warbler of the year at Calblanque.

The next day with a decent ‘fall’ was the 7th April.  With a clear sky and no wind for once, at the lighthouse gardens the day started with a Nightingale singing in the carpark area, and walking around the gardens, there were Swallows, Hoopoe, Willow/Chiffs, Redstart, Robins, a Woodchat Shrike and the first of an unusually large number of Tree Pipits seen this Spring. Calling in afterwards at Calblanque, birds of interest were a group of 12 Bee-eaters (again, first of the year), a Woodchat Shrike and 8 Pallid Swifts.
The 8th April started with dense fog at the lighthouse, but this seemed to stop the arrival of migrants rather than attract them – the only non-resident birds being a Swallow, female Chaffinch, and a pair of Common Terns along the shoreline.

The 9th April started quite misty, and instead of the lighthouse gardens, I went to Calblanque in the morning.  There was very little in the way of migrants (singles of Hoopoe, Woodchat Shrike and male Redstart, and 6 Swallows), but returning in the late afternoon, there were now 2 Woodchats, a Black-eared Wheatear, a female Redstart, 1 Willow/Chiff and a Bonelli’s Warbler.

The 10th April at the lighthouse gardens again started sunny and windless, with a ‘dribble’ of migrants, including the first definite Willow Warbler of the year (as opposed to Willow/Chiff), and the first Northern Wheatear there (very much later than in previous years).

Ideal 'fall' conditions brought down this Pied Flycatcher ...
... and this Bonelli's Warbler
The 11th was totally overcast with drizzle first thing – possibly ideal fall conditions.  A trip to the ‘encañizadas’ produced a good variety of waders, (Curlew, Whimbrel, Bar-tailed Godwit, Oystercatcher, Greenshank, Grey Plover, Black Winged Stilt, Turnstone, Sanderling and Ringed Plover, plus other distant small waders, presumably Dunlin and Little Stints). 

Passerines seen were a Pied Flycatcher, 4 Red Rumped Swallows, 6 Swallow, male Blackcap singing, 2 Bonelli’s Warblers, Woodchat Shrike and 5 Tree Pipits, two of which hung around and could be seen on the ground feeding.

Later in the day there were a further two Tree Pipits in the line of tamarisk bushes bordering the Salinas at Marchamalo (by Playa Paraiso) plus another Bonelli’s Warbler, and at Calblanque 2 Woodchats, a Pied Flycatcher and two more Bonelli’s Warblers.

At Marchamalo on the 12th, a 'grey' Pied Flycatcher ...
In afternoon visit to the lighthouse gardens on the 12th produced Redstart, Northern Wheatear and Willow Warblers, and the following morning at the same place produced 9 Northern Wheatears, a Woodchat and Subalpine Warbler.   

On the same day, having seen a male Pied Flycatcher from my front door in Los Belones, I called into Calblanque in the afternoon where I had a female Pied Flycatcher, 3 Bee-eaters, two male Redstarts, a Woodchat, and plenty of hirundines and swifts (c30 Swallows
... and a Willow Warbler
c20 House Martins, 2 Red-rumped Swallows and 6 Swift/Pallid Swifts).
On the 13th, a decent 'fall' including Subalpine Warblers .

... Black-eared Wheatears ...

... and Northern Wheatears

Back at the lighthouse in the morning of the 13th, there was one of the better ‘falls’ of migrants, with Black-eared Wheatear, 3 Northern Wheatears, 4 Subalpine Warblers, 4 Willow Warblers, 12+ Swallows, a Robin, and a Fan-tailed Warbler (the only spring record of this onetime breeding bird here, possibly wiped out by the cats). On the same morning at the nearby Marchamalo Salinas in the small wooded area there, there was a female Redstart, Short-toed Lark singing, Red-rumped Swallows, Turtle Dove, 3 Willow Warblers, Tree Pipit, 2 Hoopoes, plus House Martins, Swallows and Common/Pallid Swifts.


An afternoon visit to Calblanque on the 15th produced 3 Pied Flycatchers, 2 Woodchats, 3 Northern Wheatears, 3 Willow/Chiffs, a Common Whitethroat and my first Whinchat of the year.

The only spring Wryneck, on the 16th April
The last two weeks of April are always the most productive in the lighthouse gardens, so on the 16th ‘only’ seeing a single Northern Wheatear, 5 Swallows, a Subalpine Warbler, a male Redstart, Wryneck, 3 Willow Warblers plus 2 Willow/Chiffs and the first Melodious Warblers of the year seemed a little poor.  

On the same day at Calblanque, ...

... and!

However, calling into Calblanque in the afternoon made up for it, with 5 Pied Flycatchers, the first Spotted Flycatcher of the year, 2 Bonelli’s Warblers, a singing Western Orphean Warbler, a Wood Warbler, a group of 14 Bee-eaters, 2 Hoopoes, 2 Willow/Chiffs, 3 Redstarts, a Melodious Warbler, 2 Whinchats, a Woodchat, a male Black-eared Wheatear and a Roller!

The following day at the lighthouse was relatively poor, with a single male Redstart, a male Northern Wheatear, a couple of Red-rumped Swallows and six Swallows, and in the afternoon at Calblanque things were much quieter with just three singing Willow Warblers, 3 Spotted Flycatchers, a Hoopoe, 2 Woodchats and a flock of 5 Corn Buntings flying through (and a flock of 11 Black Winged Stilts in the Rasall salinas).

A typical sighting of Northern Wheatears on the rocks ...

and a surprise, Cirl Bunting (photo courtesy Geoff Stokes)

On the 18th , an early start at Calblanque produced only a single Spotted Flycatcher, 5 Woodchats and a Willow/Chiff, and following on to the lighthouse gardens produced male and female Redstarts, a singing Willow Warbler, 9 Northern Wheatears, a Woodchat, and a bit of a surprise, a female Cirl Bunting.

At the 'Encañizadas', male Whinchat ...

... and a Little/Dimorphic Egret cross

A later visit to the ‘encañizadas’ produced only a single male Whinchat, a Spotted Flycatcher and a couple of Willow Warblers in the bushes, but more  interesting there was a Little/Dimorphic Egret cross in a group of 15 Little Egrets.

The birds I wait all spring for - Ortolan Buntings ....

... another Bonelli's Warbler ...

... in good supply this Spring, Pied Flycatcher ...

... and later, another Ortolan Bunting
The 20th was another good ‘fall’ day at the lighthouse, with 2 Woodchats, 8+ Subalpine Warblers, 15 Redstarts, 4 Northern Wheatears, a ‘flava’ Wagtail over, 10 Willow Warblers, 35+ Willow/Chiffs, a Nightingale heard, a Night Heron flying along the shoreline, Swallows and Red-rumped Swallows, 3 Pied Flycatchers, a Melodious Warbler, 2 Bonelli’s Warblers, a female Whinchat, and tracking down a soft ‘sip sip’ call, a minimum of five Ortolan Buntings.

Another smaller ‘fall’ there on the 21st produced Turtle Dove, 2 Woodchats, 2 Willow Warblers and 4 Willow/Chiffs, 4 Northern Wheatears, 3 Whinchats, 2 Redstarts, a Common Whitethroat, 4 Swallows and 4 Swifts and a Common Sandpiper.

On the 22nd at the lighthouse in the morning, things were back to normal, with just 3 Woodchats, a single male Redstart, 2 Willow Warblers, a couple of Swallows and 4 Swift, while in the afternoon at Calblanque there was a Nightingale singing in the carpark, and a couple of Willow Warblers singing in the arboretum.
A mammalian surprise - at least 5 Bottle-nosed Dolphins

The 23rd at the lighthouse, of most interest was a pod of at least 5 Bottle-nosed Dolphins passing by between the rocks and Isla Grosa, heading inland.  Bird migrant-wise, there were 6 Willow Warblers, 5 Northern Wheatears, 4 Swift/Pallid Swifts, 6 Swallows and a couple of Red-rumped Swallows.

Every year produces at least one bird you wouldn’t expect to see at the lighthouse (last year it was Green Woodpecker clinging to the lighthouse as if it were a big tree, and Blue Tit). 
What a surprise!  Nuthatch!
The morning of the 24th produced the bird for 2014, a Nuthatch, which completely overshadowed the 9 Tree Pipits seen to fly over.  Other migrants were a Subalpine Warbler, 9 Northern Wheatears, a Woodchat, a Nightingale heard, plus 20+ Swifts/Pallid Swifts, 8 Swallows and 2 Red-rumped Swallows.  A second visit in the afternoon produced a couple of Common Whitethroats, Pied Flycatcher, male Redstart, 7 Northern Wheatears and 6 Swallows.

A fantastic Spring this, for Tree Pipits
An early visit to the lighthouse gardens area on the 25th produced a minimum of 4 and up to 6 Tree Pipits, which the resident pair of Kestrels tried hunting, diving on them as they sat on top of the bushes. Also present were 4 Northern Wheatears, a female Whinchat, 8 Pied Flycatchers, 3 Turtle Doves, 3 Woodchats, 5 Redstarts, Nightingale, Common Whitethroat, a couple of Willow Warblers, 6 Swallows and a Rufous Bushchat (Bush Robin).

On the 27th in the morning at the lighthouse there were more ‘aerial plankton’ collectors, with 12 Swallows, 4 Red-rumped Swallows and a minimum of 12 Swift, plus 4 Tawny Pipits flew over in a group.  On the ground were 11 Northern Wheatears, 2 Nightingales, 3 Woodchats, 8 Redstarts, 6 Pied and one Spotted Flycatchers, 5 Whinchats, a Common Whitethroat, a Melodious Warbler and a couple of Willow Warblers.  Returning in the afternoon, a male Ortolan Bunting was found, together with 4 Woodchats, 15 Redstarts, 8 Whinchats, 4 Pied Flycatchers, 2 Melodious Warblers, 2 Common Whitethroats, 3 Northern Wheatears and 2 Willow Warblers.

Not as common as other years, but Robins were still about

Late April is typical passage time for Melodious Warblers

Not normally so easy to see, Common Whitethroat

One of the 'aerial plankton' eaters, Common Swift
At the same location the following day there were still plenty of migrants around, with 6 Pied Flycatchers, 2 Woodchats, 4 Northern Wheatears, 3 Whinchats, 5 Redstarts, 6 Swallows, 2 ‘flava’ Wagtails, 8 Swift, 4 Red-rumped Swallows, a Bonelli’s Warbler, a Nightingale, 2 Robins, 4 Melodious Warblers, 3 Willow Warblers and a Common Whitethroat.  On a second visit later in the day, the only noticeable change was in seeing 3 Common Whitethroats.

At the lighthouse on the 29th, the day started with quite heavy fog which soon receded to form a bank over the sea.  Migrants seen were 2 Night Herons along the shoreline, a Corn Bunting, 4 Redstart, single Melodious and Willow Warblers plus an unidentified Willow/Chiff, 10+ Swift, 6 Northern Wheatear, 3 Pied Flycatchers, a Hoopoe, 15+ Swallows, 3 Red-rumped Swallows, a Whinchat and a Nightingale heard.

The 30th, the last day of the month, continued to produce decent numbers of migrants, with 11 Northern Wheatears, 3 Redstarts, a female Subalpine Warbler, a male Whinchat, 2 Iberian Wagtails (unlike what normally happens, these weren’t flyovers and so could be sub-specifically identified), 8 Swallows, 2 Red-rumped Swallows, a Melodious Warbler and a Nightingale.

May started very quietly – on the 1st at the lighthouse the only migrants were a single Northern Wheatear and a Robin.  There was also a family group of 8 Serins, 2 adults with 6 juveniles, which probably bred nearby.

From the 2nd May, Wood Warblers started to move through .

... and at Marchamalo, the second local Roller of the Spring
The 2nd, and another small ‘fall’, this time 2 Redstarts, a massive 38 Northern Wheatears, a Pied and a Spotted Flycatcher, a Robin, 4 Red-rumped Swallows, 12 Swift/Pallid Swifts and a small group of 4 Bee-eaters. 

In the afternoon in the bush area by Marchamalo Salinas there were 6 Willow Warblers, at least 2 Bonelli’s Warblers, at least 6 Pied Flycatchers, Tree Pipit, 2 Hoopoes, 8 Wood Warblers and a Roller.

Back at the lighthouse on the 4th, and there were noticeably fewer migrants, with 8 Swallows, 2 Red-rumped Swallows, a Northern Wheatear, 2 Redstarts and a male Whinchat.

The same place on the 5th produced a single Robin, a Woodchat, 8 Swallows, 10+ Swift/Pallid Swifts, 18 Northern Wheatears and a single fly-over ‘flava’ Wagtail, and on the 6th, things were quieter still with just 3 Northern Wheatears, 6 Swallows, a single female Redstart and 2 Red-rumped Swallows. 

The only difference on the 7th in the morning were 3 Willow Warblers and 9 Northern Wheatears, while round at Calareona at midday, a single female Woodchat, Nightingale, Subalpine Warbler, 3 Common Whitethroats, a Spotted Flycatcher and a Willow Warbler.  Later on in the afternoon at Calareona, a probable Icterine Warbler was found, together with 2 Willow Warblers, a Spotted Flycatcher, a female Redstart and a couple of Willow Warblers.

At the lighthouse gardens on the 11th, another small ‘fall’ with 13 Swallows, 4 House Martins, a Woodchat, 7 Redstarts, 8 Northern Wheatears, an Alpine Swift, a Common Swift, a singing Melodious Warbler, 6 Willow Warblers, 2 Red-rumped Swallows, a female Whinchat and a couple of Bee-eaters flying over calling.

The penultimate day of survey at the lighthouse gardens, the 12th, and things had quietened right down, the only surprise being 2 Robins.  Otherwise migrants were a Red-rumped Swallow, 6 Swallows and a single Northern Wheatear.

The 13th, last day of my study, and once again a small ‘fall’ of migrants, with a Reed Warbler being heard, 2 Redstarts, a Melodious Warbler, 8 Swallows, 4 Red-rumped Swallows, 4 House Martins and 3 Northern Wheatears.

Finally, outside of the ‘coastal’ definition and outside my survey dates, in the afternoon of the 14th May at the bushes by Marchamalo Salinas, 2 Pied Flycatchers, 1 Spotted Flycatcher and 4 Wood Warblers.

Simple Graph of individual numbers of birds and numbers of species

The graph below shows the number of individual birds seen and number of migratory species
seen on the corresponding date.  Species not included in this graph are Blackbirds, Greenfinches, Goldfinches, Serins, Linnets and Sardinian Warblers, as although these are also migratory species, there is a breeding population around the lighthouse garden area.

Maps copyright of Google Earth
Photographs copyright Richard Howard, except photograph of Cirl Bunting, copyright Geoff Stokes

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