Sunday, 5 October 2014

Raptors in Murcia

The Region of Murcia isn’t exactly famous for its raptors – in fact when I first moved here I used to think of it as being similar to my home county of Essex in those times – commonest raptor being the Kestrel, with Marsh harriers in a few places, augmented in the winter by the occasional Hen Harrier and Merlin.

Over the years however, I’ve seen most of the breeding Spanish raptors here and in the last few years with the help of local birdwatchers, I have seen an actual pattern / passage of them.  Not on the scale of places such as Tarifa, but all the same there are ‘good’ times of the year to see them, and good places to see them from.

Locally, the best places are the coastal mountains south of Cartagena towards Mazarron, and my favorite place to view from (which doesn’t involve a lot of mountain climbing and can be driven to) is Cabo Tiñoso which overlooks the bay of ‘Puerto de Mazarron’.  Actually it is quite a sightseeing location due to the massive 38 cm Vickers cannons in the fort built on top of the cliffs.  Higher up the mountain is a group of antennae.  The best viewing spot for numbers of birds is a ‘layby’ (actually just an area where the track is a little wider) on the way up to the antennae – when going to Cabo Tiñoso, instead of taking the left turn to the guns, continue straight up and the spot is on the left.

View inland, from the antennae layby - at over 300 metres above sea level,
good views can be had over the surrounding countryside 

When to go?  The best time seems to be the period from the beginning of September to mid October.  As to time of day, I’ve normally gone there from mid-afternoon (around 4pm) to dusk, but other people I know have been in the morning with just the same sort of results.

It was bearing all this in mind that when Mick Brewer asked me the week before last if there was anywhere to go for an afternoon before he returned to the UK, having heard that raptors were being seen, I automatically thought of Cabo Tiñoso. So we arranged to have a look on Thursday, 25th September.

We actually arrived at the layby and started looking at 16:45, and about 10 minutes later we saw our first raptors.  The conditions were cloudy with a north-easterly breeze, and the first few birds we saw (a small group of 5) took some effort to identify – they were high up, and were either Common or Honey Buzzards (we finally decided Honeys).  We were worried that if all the birds were so high up, we might have i.d. problems, but we needn’t have worried - as time went on and it cooled down, the birds seemed to come in (almost all from the West) lower and lower.  We noticed that they all seemed to carry on to the sea, but we couldn’t see exactly where they went due to there being a mountain in the way.  So we stayed there for a full hour, and then went down to the fort to see if they were any easier to see there.

At the fort area we remained close to the carpark (more than anything because it was by now threatening rain, and in the surrounding hills we could hear thunder) and found somewhere out of the wind to set up the ‘scopes.  In actual fact, in the end we needn’t have worried too much about the ‘scopes as some of the birds came VERY close (and seemed to be investigating us!).  We had one Honey Buzzard hang over us for quite a few seconds, and there was a Hobby that seemed to be making circuits around the fort area even though we couldn’t see what it might be feeding on – there seemed to be an absolute dearth of passerines.  There was also a pair of Peregrines making various passes around the place.

We stayed there until 7pm, by which time it was getting quite dull, and as we didn’t want to get caught in a storm, we made our way back to the Mar Menor.

In the 2 ¼ hours we spent there, we saw the following:

71 Honey Buzzard
  1 Common Buzzard
  3 Marsh Harrier
  3 Hobby
  2 Sparrowhawk
  3 Kestrel
  2 Peregrine

Other raptors that have been seem this autumn on passage from the same coastal mountain range have been Short-toed Eagle; Montagu’s Harrier; Pallid Harrier; Elenora’s Falcon; Osprey; Booted Eagle; Red Kite; Black Kite; Egyptian Vulture.

Following on, a selection of photos I was able to take before the lack of light made it impossible.

 Typically variable - Honey Buzzards
 Marsh Harrier
 Honey Buzzard
 Very rapid Peregrine!
 Typical Honey Buzzard, keeping an eye on everything, with snake-like head & neck

 The Honey Buzzard that flew low directly over us

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