Tuesday, 18 November 2014

Mar Menor roundup

Hi all.  Here is a roundup of what’s been seen in and around the Mar Menor during the last week.  The weather this last week has been fairly stable, a bit windy at the beginning, but otherwise sunny and warm (up to 24ºC) during the day every day.  Perfect birding weather in fact!

On Tuesday, 11th November, an early morning visit to the lighthouse gardens was quite productive, with a fair number of winter visitors being seen.  On the sea, there were Gannets, Cormorants, a single Shag, and Balearic and Cory’s Shearwaters heading south.  In the gardens themselves, Starlings, Sardinian Warblers, Robins, Meadow Pipits, Black Redstarts, Goldfinches, Linnets, Greenfinches, Stonechats, Blackbirds, single Blackcap and Chiffchaff, and flying overhead, Crag Martins.

The following day also early in the morning, at the Arenal at Los Nietos, on the Mar Menor, good numbers of both Great Crested and Black Necked Grebes (more than 20 of each), and my first two Common Scoter of the year.  In nearby fields was a flock of 36 Stone Curlews keeping themselves well hidden (as they do).

 Stone Curlews on an abandoned field

From there I went to the old EDAR (swage farm) of El Algar, where the flock of Lapwing had now built up to 10 birds, and there was also Grey Wagtail, Hoopoe, Chiffchaff, with a Booted Eagle flying around and Common Buzzard perched on a post.  In the afternoon on the Mar Menor beach at the ‘marina de Carmoli’ some friends had the first Short-eared Owl of the autumn.

 Hoopoe, not an infrequent sight in winter

On Thursday, 13th November at first light, while driving along the road between Los Nietos and Los Urrutias, I came across the Osprey that has been hanging around the area recently.  I tried for a photo, but the Osprey was off before I got a chance.  When I got to my destination, the marina de Carmoli, of interest were a female Sparrowhawk, a couple of Marsh Harriers hunting, a couple of Curlews and three Skylarks flew through.

This was our monthly ‘duck-count’ day at the EDAR (sewage farm) in Beaza (Cartagena), and setting off early in the afternoon, I once again went via the Mar Menor, where in the water I had a group of four Shoveler, and stopping at the parking at the ‘desembocadura de la rambla de Albujon’ beyond Los Urrutias to scan over the Mar Menor, I had for the second time this day, the Osprey fly along the Mar Menor, and over to investigate me.  This time I was ready with my camera!

The Osprey that seems to have taken up winter residence

Carrying on along towards Cartagena, I stopped off in the industrial park of Los Camachos where there is a large farm reservoir that can be seen over from the side of the road.  Although the nearby EDAR is private with restricted access, this reservoir is like a miniature version of it, and you quite often see the same species on it, although in smaller numbers.  Here, of note were a single male Pochard, four White-headed Ducks and eight Black-necked Grebes.

Moving on to the EDAR itself, although we haven’t had the official numbers back yet, what stood out were a couple of male Tufted Ducks (rare here in Murcia) and a total of 334 White-headed Ducks (not a bad number for a species that only a few years back was considered to be on the edge of worldwide extinction).

Friday 14th November, at first light I was back at the Cabo de Palos lighthouse gardens again.  Here there were much the same birds as on my previous trip here, with of note, Chiffchaffs up to six, also a flock of six Meadow Pipits around the base of the lighthouse, five Black Redstarts, and there were definitely more finches around (Serins, Linnets and Greenfinches). 

On my way back from the lighthouse, I called into the Salinas at Marchamalo where there were 16 Greater Flamingos, a couple of Spotted Redshanks, Greenshanks, Slender-billed Gulls, and round at the Playa Paraiso urbanization side, four Little Ringed Plovers, a couple of Little Stints and seven Dunlin, plus around the bushes Fan-tailed Warblers (Zitting Cisticola), Black Redstarts, Chiffchaffs and a flock of around 70 Serins.

 Once again, typical sights for the time of year - here Greater Flamingo ...
 ... and winter plumaged Spotted Redshank

On the morning of Saturday 15th November, I resumed my search up in ‘monte Cenizas’, Atamaria (towards Portman, behind the golf course) for the Yellow-browed Warbler and a few other species (Goldcrest, Wren), spending just over four hours there.  But of these I only found one – Wren, which is a winter visitor to this part of Spain.  In total I saw three birds and heard another two.    Other birds of interest seen were plenty of Chaffinches, Robins, Black Redstarts, Crested Tit, Firecrest, Dartford and Sardinian Warblers and Black Redstarts.

 Only found in the winter in this part of Spain, Wren

  Also a winter visitor, Firecrest ...

 ... and another which can commonly be heard singing, Chiffchaff

 One of the woodland residents - Long-tailed Tit ...

 ... and another.  Here we don't get Blue Tits, just this Crested variety

 Also in the woodland glades flying in the warm sun, plenty of Red Admirals

From there I made my way over to the Mar Menor, stopping off at some farm reservoirs ‘en route’, picking up a group of three Ferruginous Ducks, Southern Grey Shrike and Booted Eagle.   

On a farm reservoir were three of these little treasures - Ferruginous Ducks
I called in once again at the old EDAR Elgar, but this time drew a blank - the only bird there was a single White Wagtail
Carrying on to the Mar Menor, on the sea were a group of three adult Mediterranean Gulls, plus plenty of Great Crested and Black-necked Grebes, the large flock (of about 400 birds) of Cormorants and a single Sandwich Tern.   
Wandering along the beach back towards Los Urrutias (just in case there may be a Short-eared Owl in the saltings) I had a group of nine Curlew, a couple of Slender-billed Gulls and three Fan-tailed Warblers (Zitting Cisticolas).  Eventually reaching the sailing club at Los Urrutias at about 4 in the afternoon, I had a rapid sighting of the Kingfisher that has taken up winter residence, and looking down the beach towards Los Nietos, at Lo Poyo I could see the Oystercatcher which also seems to have taken up winter residence.

My last call of the day was to spend the last hour of light watching over the harrier roost at the marina de Carmoli, to count the harriers as they came in.  This time numbers were small with only four Marsh Harriers, but also flying around briefly were a ‘ringtail’ Hen Harrier, and another smaller ‘ringtail’ with an orange-brown body!  This would normally be put down as ‘Montagu’s/Pallid’ – but considering the general paucity of records of Montagu’s in this part of Murcia, and considering the date and the fact that an immature Pallid overwintered here last winter, I would say it’s more likely to have been a Pallid.  Maybe the coming weeks will tell.

Also seen on the Saturday morning, was a Griffon Vulture sat on a traffic sign close to the ‘marina de Carmoli’.  I didn’t get to hear about it till the evening, but it seems like it may have been one blown east by the winds of previous weeks, and be looking out for something dead to eat!  Definitely a bird to keep an eye out for.

 Griffon Vulture watching the traffic!
Photo copyright Antonio Fernandez-Caro Gomez
Sunday 16th I made an early morning visit to the ‘Arenal’ at Los Nietos in the hope of coming across a Short-eared Owl.  In this I was unlucky, but I DID come across a group of five Richard’s Pipits, which promptly flew off towards Los Urrutias, never to be seen again.  I presume they were a migrating group, as another one stayed and actually allowed me to get reasonably close!
 In 8 winters of trying, probably the best photo I've got of Richard's Pipit

Other birds seen here were Stonechat, Fan-tailed Warbler (Zitting Cisticola), plenty of Crested Larks, Skylarks, Slender-billed Gulls, Sandwich Terns, Serins, Greenfinches, Dartford Warbler, Sardinian Warbler, Monk Parakeets and Crag Martins.  

 Another coastal common winter visitor, although more often heard than seen, Dartford Warbler

I walked as far as Lo Poyo where there were a number of waders feeding, including the Oystercatcher I had seen the previous day, Grey and Ringed PloversDunlin, Turnstones, and single Little Stint and Kentish Plover.

 Normally quite a rarity in Murcia, this year Oystercatchers have been very visible

From the Arenal, I went to the furthest extreme of La Manga, the Encañizadas.  Although arriving quite late in the morning for this location (i.e. when there are plenty of walkers, cyclists and general noise-makers about), I still managed to see a good variety of birds, including 35 Sandwich Terns, 2 Great (White) Egrets, 3 Spoonbills, a group of 8 Pintail asleep on the water, Dartford Warblers, Southern Grey Shrike singing in the sunshine, Bar-tailed and Black-tailed Godwits, and in amongst all the Yellow-legged Gulls, at least two Lesser Black-backed Gulls.

 The best place to see Bar-tailed Godwit - at the Encañizadas at the end of La Manga

Also the best place for Black-headed Gulls and Sandwich Terns

My last trip out of the last week was yesterday evening, when as I found myself close to the ‘marina de Carmoli’ about half an hour before dusk, I thought I’d stop for a while and see what entered the harrier roost.  In the half an hour I waited, I had Sparrowhawk, Booted Eagle, 8 Marsh Harriers and a single ringtail Hen Harrier, but no sign of the ‘Montagu’s/Pallid’ of the couple of days before.

And that’s all for now folks, so till my next post, happy birding!!


Tuesday, 11 November 2014

Of Vultures and Cranes

I’ve always looked forward to the end of October / beginning of November because it’s the time of year when, if there are any groups around, you are likely to see good numbers of Griffon Vultures locally, especially after a period of rain and south-westerly winds as we had on the 4th.  And so when I went shopping on lunchtime last Wednesday (5th November), knowing that a few had been seen around the region, I was alert to the possibility of them being about locally.  So when I saw a ‘spot’ in the sky over the ‘Cabeza del Fuente’ mountain (Calblanque) from the ‘autovia’ from Los Belones to Cabo de Palos, shopping took second priority.  Stopping the car at the first legal opportunity, I got my bins on the bird, and yes, it was a Griffon Vulture, and it was flying with 19 others!  Deciding to investigate, it took me around 10 minutes to get to the Cabeza de la Fuente (typically, I had the car facing the wrong way and had to go halfway to Cabo de Palos to be able to turn around).  When I got there, the Vultures were nowhere to be seen!  Now I had a choice – to chase them, did I go west towards Portman, or east towards Cabo de Palos via Calblanque.  I chose Calblanque – and never saw them again!  However, travelling through Calblanque, I did see a minimum of 3 Booted and 5 Short-toed Eagles, including one Short-toed that launched itself after something at the side of the car, and I was able to take various photos.

 One of the Booted Eagles over Calblanque

 Photo sequence of Short-toed Eagle hunting prey (snakes)

The prey looks rather small - was it worth it?
As regards the Vultures, I have since heard that there were around 50 ‘large raptors’ over the golf courses of La Manga Club that afternoon, up to 500 over Cartagena, and up to 1,500 passed over Tarifa (Cadiz) to Africa that day!

Now in a total ‘birding’ frame of mind, I called in to the old EDAR (sewage farm) of El Algar, mainly so see how the water levels were there after the rain of the previous day.  Birds there were pretty much the normal (7 Lapwing, 7 Black Winged Stilts, 3 Greenshanks, 8 Cattle Egrets, a couple of Kestrels and single Common Buzzard and Marsh Harrier), but the water level looked good once again, after the sun and heat of the previous weeks had all but dried it up. 

 The EDAR El Algar, after the rains of the previous day

While there, I bumped into fellow birdwatcher Pepe Navarro, and we chatted about the Vultures.  I said (more as a joke than anything) that the last time I’d seen a big group of Vultures locally (in October 2008), in the flock had been a Black Stork, so to watch out for them.  He mentioned to me that over the weekend, the first Common Cranes had been seen in El Hondo (Elche, Alicante), and to look out for them too.  Little did we know…

Splitting up, Pepe went off to the ‘desembocadura de la Rambla de Albujon’ in the hope of getting some photos of the juvenile Osprey that seems to be staying to over winter there (he’s seen it now on several occasions), and I stayed a little longer at the EDAR and then I made my way slowly along the Mar Menor with the idea of checking out the Harrier roost from Punta Brava.  While driving alongside the ‘marina de Carmoli’ I saw two white ‘blobs’ in the distance that made me brake hard (never drive behind me!!).  Could it be – yes it was – not two white plastic bags, but two Common Cranes feeding.  Who’d have believed it, especially after we’d just been talking about them.  A quick call to Pepe and he soon arrived. They were quite distant, but we both managed a few photos, but soon had to move on as we were illegally stopped (still, that doesn’t matter here in Spain does it?, you just put on your hazard lights and everything’s OK, no?).

 The two Common Cranes at the 'marina de Carmoli'

By now it was getting towards dusk, a good time to be counting the Harriers, so we went to the famous ‘football pitch’ overlooking the ‘marina de Carmoli’ to wait for the Harriers.  While scanning over the ‘marina’, a bird caught my attention.  At first I thought it was a Cormorant flying strangely – it seemed to be all dark – but getting the ‘scope on it – yes you’ve guessed – a Black Stork!  It flew over to the Mar Menor and down and looked as if it wanted to land on the shore but all of a sudden it veered back up in the air and flew directly towards us!  A terrific photo opportunity if it hadn’t been almost dark, but we rattled off some photos as it passed over up and continued behind the house, to roost somewhere on the ‘marina’ we imagine.  What an afternoon!!  And the Harriers – well we did manage one single Marsh Harrier!

 The Black Stork as it flew over the treetops

Full of enthusiasm, the next morning I was back at El Algar looking around the fields, but there was no sign of the Stork, and neither could I find the Cranes, but it seems that they were there, just in a different part of the ‘marina’.  I did however find a Booted Eagle that was sat on the top of a lopped ‘cipresa’ tree, which allowed me to photograph it until a jogger came past and it flew off.
 Now that there are a few puddles around, good numbers of Serins drop down to drink

 Booted Eagle that posed for me ...
 ... until a jogger went by

For a change of scene I had a look around the ‘arboretum’ in Calblanque at midday.  The place seemed to be alive with Songthrushes, obviously new in, and in nearby fields, plenty of Meadow Pipits which I presume also new in.  Raptors were only represented by three Kestrels and a Short-toed eagle.

 Just the single Short-toed Eagle at Calblanque today ...
 ... but a good number of Meadow Pipits such as this one

Friday morning saw me once again at the ‘marina de Carmoli’ and once again, the Cranes were there, but further east than where I had seen them two days before – I presume that this was because there was a military helicopter doing manouvres around the short military airstrip – at least, the Cranes kept looking nervously in that direction, and kept moving to the east while I was there.  I managed a short video of them, which you can see here.

The Cranes seen once again at the 'marina de Carmoli'

Short video of the Cranes
In the afternoon, I called into the Salinas at San Pedro del Pinatar, but things were pretty quiet there, although I did manage to read a couple of colour rings on the Greater Flamingos there.  Other birds seen were Crag Martin, Jackdaw, Shelduck, Sanderling, Dunlin, Turnstone, Black-necked Grebes (around 150 of these together along the ‘La Mota walk), Black Winged Stilt, Black-headed Gull, Ruff, Common Sandpiper, Little Stint, Grey Heron, Cattle & Little Egrets, Slender-billed Gulls (a group of about 120 of these), Cormorant, Redshank, Spotted Redshank, Black-tailed Godwit and Avocet.

 Some of the birds seen at the Salinas at San Pedro del Pinatar - here Spotted Redshank ...
 ... Black-tailed Godwits ...
 ... Ruff ...
 ... immature Slender-billed Gull ...
 ... part of the group of Black Necked Grebes ...
 ... and a closer shot of the Black Necked Grebes

Saturday was a ‘RAM’ count day (Red de observación de Aves y Mamíferos marinos), but I managed to fall back to sleep after my alarm went off, and consequently I missed the best bird of the morning – a Velvet Scoter flying past not too far out.  However, for the time I WAS there, I did see good numbers of Gannets (mainly adults) heading north, and both Cory´s and Balearic Shearwaters in general heading south.  A few Sandwich Terns were also about, plus Mediterranean Gulls, and a single distant Great Skua.  A couple of surprise birds were a Grey Heron and a Great (White) Egret both coming in off the sea and heading for La Manga – the ‘Encañizadas’ I should imagine.

While there, news broke of a Hooded Crow that had been identified on the other side of Cartagena, so after the RAM and a short ‘refreshment’ break, I was heading over to Santa Ana., where after a short wait, the crow showed itself.  A bit of an enigma this bird – according to one local it had been there for about a month, according to another, since the Spring, and yet for birders who live nearby and bird the area regularly, it was the first time they’d seen it. 

Three shots of the Hooded Crow in Santa Ana, Cartagena ...

 ... and a short video

While I was in the area, I dropped into the ‘Parque de los Exploradores’ in Santa Ana.  This looks like such a good area for wintering finches and thrushes (as was shown in the Spring when there were 4 Redwings there for a while), although there was nothing too special when I called by – Grey Wagtail, Chiffchaffs, lots of Monk Parakeets, Blackcap, Blackbirds, Black Redstarts, Robins, Serins, Greenfinches, Goldfinches and Crossbills.

 Part of the large group of Monk Parakeets in the park

 The 'hueet' of the Chiffchaff can commonly be heard and a few birds seen

 Surprisingly NOT in a pine tree, a pair of Crossbills

By now getting quite late, I decided to spend the last hour of light once again checking out the Harrier roost at the ‘marina de Carmoli’, where I had at least 10 Marsh Harriers and my first ‘ringtail’ Hen Harrier of the winter.

Sunday morning (9th November) was an overcast one, but I still decided to go up to the cannons at ‘Monte Ceniza’, still looking for ‘sprites’ (although just a Goldcrest would have been good enough for me).  I don’t know if it was because it was overcast, but things were very quiet, with the only birds of note being a lot of Chaffinches, a couple of Crested Tits, five Dartford Warblers and four Chiffchaffs.

Female Chaffinch, one of many seen on top of 'Cenizas'

After this, I went down to Los Nietos to see if I could find the group of Common Scoter on the Mar Menor that was reported during the morning, but nothing.  Good numbers of Great Crested and Black Necked Grebes in the far distance, and a group of around 150 Cormorants just sitting in the water just off the Arenal, and a Bluethroat calling from close-by to where I was watching, but nothing else.

The black smudge on the Mar Menor, group of c150 Cormorants with Yellow-legged Gulls

And that’s it for this report, so until the next, happy birding!