Normally at this time of year things are very quiet, with most birds either still breeding or moulting, and there is very little movement of birds, and I don’t tend to go out much myself. However on the 22nd June a friend of mine José Antonio was coming to stay for a few days in La Manga with his family, and could manage a couple of hours early morning bird watching, and asked me to come along. But where to go? As time was limited and at this time of year the traffic in La Manga can be horrendous, I suggested the ‘encañizadas’ at the very end of La Manga (somewhere he’d never been to before) – even if there wasn’t much there, it was easily accessible and within his time scale. So leaving at 8am, we got there at 8-30 for an hours watching.
The day started windless but fairly cloudy, and I was pleasantly surprised by just what we did see. Quite a number of waders, including 6 Curlew, 2 Whimbrel, 2 Bar-tailed Godwits (winter plumage), 14 Black Winged Stilts, 8 Turnstone, 6 Grey Plover (all in winter plumage, presumably non-breeding birds), a couple of Redshank, and singletons of Dunlin and Knot, both in breeding plumage.
There were other more distant small waders, presumably Ringed and Kentish Plovers and more Dunlin and possibly Little Stints, but they were too distant even with ‘scopes to make out exactly what they were. There were also numerous Yellow-legged Gulls breeding, and a single Slender-billed Gull, plus good numbers of Common Terns (60+), a few Sandwich Terns and at least 30 Little Terns. The Common and Little Terns appearing to be breeding in the masses of seaweed, inaccessible from both San Pedro and La Manga.
Other birds of note were a single Gull-billed Tern that flew over, a group of 27 Little Egrets feeding in the waters (Jose Antonio told me that on a subsequent visit a couple of days later, he had a Little x Dimorphic Egret cross with them, a grey bird, possibly the same bird that I saw earlier in the Spring), 25 Greater Flamingos and at least 4 Red-rumped Swallows flying around.
On the way back from there, I called into the Marchamalo Salinas at the entrance to La Manga where the only birds of note were a group of about 110 Avocets together in the corner of one of the lagoons.
Tucked in the corner of one of the lagoons, a numerous group of Avocets and B.W.Stilts
On Sunday 29th June, I thought I’d have a look at the Salinas at San Pedro first thing, and so getting there at 8-30am, spent a couple of hours there. Driving down the road towards the port, there were a few birds about, but nothing that you wouldn’t expect for the time of year (Black Winged Stilts, Avocets, Shelducks Little Egrets, Little Terns, around 200 Greater Flamingos, a single Black-necked Grebe in full breeding plumage and a couple of seconds views of 2 male Little Bitterns flying from one reedbed to another). Checking out the ‘laguna de Cotorrillo’ (the last lagoon on the left before reaching the port), I noticed a strange tern on one of the wooden posts in front of the hide there, so I went down to the hide and spent half an hour or so photographing the tern as it preened, perched on the post. The light was not good, but good enough to be able to see that it was one of the ‘orange-billed’ Terns that have been showing up in recent years on the eastern coast of Spain (and even breeding in the Albufuera de Valencia). The bird was almost identical to nearby perched Sandwich Terns, but had an orange bill. Not a Lesser Crested Tern because the rump and tail was white, not grayish, checking in your field guide, you would think that it was an Elegant Tern. However, to me at least, the bill wasn’t an Elegant Tern bill (which is slightly longer and downcurved), and I think it was a hybrid Sandwich x Elegant. (The original Elegant Tern seen some years ago both here in Murcia and interbreeding with a Sandwich Tern in Valencia was seen to bring up free-flying yellow-billed young). A very interesting bird nonetheless.
A section of photos of the 'orange-billed' Tern
General photos showing the 'shaggy' crest and orange bill
The tern preening, showing the white rump and tail, so not a Lesser Crested Tern
Direct comparison with a Sandwich Tern
I returned for a short visit to the Salinas at San Pedro on the morning of the 4th July, and the ‘orange-bill’ was here once again, this time in the tern colony that is visible from the side of the road just before the road branches for the Salinas themselves. Also in the colony were about 60 Sandwich Terns, 50 Common Terns, around 30 Black-headed Gulls and a single pristine adult Mediterranean Gull in breeding plumage.
More photos of the 'orange-billed Tern, this time more distant in the tern colony
On Saturday, 5th July I had another look at the éncañizadas’ at the end of La Manga strip, but wader numbers were definitely less than my previous visit. Of note were 2 Black-tailed Godwits in full breeding plumage, a Stone Curlew, 7 Greenshanks and a couple of Black Terns feeding over one of the still pools formed there. They were distant, but obviously adults in breeding plumage.
Normally, when Black Terns start coming through, they can be seen in various places locally, so the next morning I called in again at the Salinas at San Pedro, where I had a couple roosting on the posts distantly in the 3rd lagoon on the right as you drive down towards the port. The only other bird of note seen was a single male Little Bittern seen to fly into a reedbed and immediately drop down out of sight (as they do!).
On my way back home, I called into some farm reservoirs where Black Terns congregate, and was rewarded with seeing two more there and some very aggressive Gull-billed Terns, and later at the EDAR (sewage-farm) of San Javier (opposite the airport) there was a further adult bird flying around (plus for UK birders, 7 Turtle Doves sitting on wires around the citrus plantations).
One of my favourites, Black Tern in breeding plumage
Juvenile Gull-billed Tern ...
... and a particularly aggressive adult
Finally, my last trip out, once again to the Salinas at San Pedro del Pinatar in the evening of the 7th July, I watched the ‘orange-billed’ Tern for about 2 ½ hours in the colony of mixed Common and Sandwich Terns (about 100 Sandwich and 50 Commons) during which time a/the adult Mediterranean Gull came and went.
The ‘orange-bill’ spent most of its time preening, but also spent some time with its head and crest held high, chasing around after Sandwich Terns giving the appearance it was searching for a mate, but none of the Sandwich Terns would have anything to do with it!
Another record shot of the 'orange-billed' in the tern colony
I’m back in the UK for a few weeks from next weekend, and I’ll be wandering around my ‘childhood’ birding sites (now nearly all RSPB reserves) in the south of Essex, so I’ll try a few reports from there if I’ve got time.