Tuesday, 4 November 2014

Searching for sprites

Having spent a couple of weeks back in the UK, this last weekend I tried to catch up with all the birds I’ve missed locally, and in particular, the Yellow-browed Warbler.  Over the past three weeks there has been an invasion of this little sprite into the Spanish peninsula and also the Balearic and Canary Islands, although the only one seen so far in the region of Murcia has been one caught and ringed on Isla Grosa (just off La Manga) during the ANSE autumn ringing project there (where they also caught and ringed for the second year running, a Red-breasted Flycatcher, but this time a spectacular looking adult).  I started my search in the coastal woodlands at Monte Cenizas, Atamaria (probably better known for its cannons than the birds). 

 View down to the Bay of Portman from Mount Cenizas

Mount Cenizas, better known for its two cannons

 Another view down towards the bay of Portman

General view of the Cenizas woodland

Setting off relatively early, before the hoards of walkers and cyclists, I slowly made my way to the top constantly listening out for the Yellow-browed’s call (higher pitched and more noticeably bi-syllablic than Chiffchaff).  Chiffchaffs I heard plenty of, but nothing even remotely like Yellow-browed.  I did however hear Firecrests, and actually saw along the track at least 5 of these beautiful little birds.  Presumably birds on passage, I never normally see these so obviously when I go up to Cenizas.  Also presumably on passage (although it’d be nice if it stayed and wintered) was a male Ring Ouzel – I could hear it calling from a group of close trees, and then I eventually saw it fly out and off to some other trees some way of where it continued to call.

 In total, I saw at least five of these delights ...

 ... surprisingly tame, at the side of the track ...

... searching for mosquitos and grubs
Noticeably getting closer to winter, overhead there were Crag Martins flying around instead of the migrating Swallows and House Martins of only a few weeks ago, and a single Short-toed Eagle could be seen hovering, a bird also on migration presumably hunting before continuing its journey. On the way up, Robins were ‘Tchack-tchacking’ on the whole of the route, and up on the top by the guns there were several Black Redstarts and Stonechats, more evidence of impending winter.  On my way down, through areas of scrub, there were more Stonechats and Black Redstarts, plus plenty of Sardinian and Dartford Warblers calling, and a single late Northern Wheatear.

 The Short-toed Eagle seen flying therough the canopy

 Not so common now are the Northern Wheatears ...

From Cenizas, I went just around the corner to the bay of Portman, for a wander along the clifftops, once again looking for Yellow-browed, but again without success.  Here again, plenty of Chiffchaffs, Stonechats, Black Redstarts, a single Songthrush and at least three Black Wheatears.

 ... whereas the Black Redstarts are everywhere

 One of Portmans' specialities - Black Wheatear ...

 ... and in the winter there's always a few Stonechats knocking about

My next stop was the Arboretum in Calblanque – an area obviously with plenty of trees, but also plenty of Tamarisks which the smaller warblers seem to like.  But alas no, no luck here either – just more Robins, Black Redstarts, Chiffchaffs, Songthrushes and a single Sparrowhawk and Short-toed Eagle.

Just for a change of habitat, my last call of the day was at the old EDAR (sewage farm) of El Algar.  Prior to my going back to the UK, the first lagoon had been reasonably full of water due to the recent rains.  More than anything I wanted to see what the water levels were like, and as I’d heard that there had been a few waders seen there over the last weeks,  I thought I’d check it out.  There the water was reduced to just a couple of large puddles, but I had 6 Lapwings (surprisingly rare in Murcia), a couple of Common Snipes and a single Ringed Plover, plus a single Water Pipit (another winter migrant).

Saturday, 1st November I started the day at the lighthouse gardens at Cabo de Palos for a couple of hours.  Here there was nothing too spectacular, although a male and female Blue Rock Thrush were nice.  Also, plenty of Robins, and Black Redstarts (18 of the latter), plus a couple of Songthrushes and a single Chiffchaff.  Also, the ‘Spotted’ Starlings have now arrived, and in a total of 20 Starling sp., I had 12 Spotless and 8 ‘Spotted’.  Around the cliffs were Crag Martins, looking exhausted even though it was a warm sunny day.

 Crag Martins in their natural habitat, but looking very tired

Moving on at mid-morning to the Marchamalo Salinas (Cabo de Palos), there was very little in the actual Salinas (6 Greater Flamingos, 2 Little Egrets, 3 Slender-billed Gulls and 3 Black Winged Stilts, with 9 Grey Herons on the walls surrounding the lagoons), but exploring the area back towards Cabo de Palos, I had 4 Songthrushes and a real surprise, two Redwings – the first time I´ve seen them so close to the coast.  Also wandering around there, I had a pale morph Booted Eagle circling together with a Short-toed Eagle, and as I watched this, I saw more and more Short-toed Eagles and a second Booted Eagle.  They seemed to be dropping out of the clouds, maybe unsure of what to do as they had reached the coast, because they circled for a while and then drifted off, surprisingly to the North.  In total over a 15 minute period I saw a total of 9 Short-toed Eagles.  Also around this area, I could hear plenty of Dartford Warblers, although I didn’t get to see one until I got back to my car and there was one hopping around in the low scrub.  Wandering off now to the scrub area next to the Salinas, there were a couple more, and by crouching and not moving, I managed to get a few photos as one was flycatching from the fence.

 Short-toed Eagles that appeared from nowhere ...

 ... and a Dartford Warbler, of which there were a few

In the afternoon, another visit to the EDAR El Algar was quite fruitful, with a couple of Common Buzzards on posts on the way there, and 5 Lapwings, 2 Golden Plovers, 4 Ringed Plovers, 1 Little Ringed Plover, 1 Green Sandpiper, 1 Common Sandpiper and 2 Greenshanks around the pools in the lagoon, a couple of immature Marsh Harriers floating around, 5 Tree Sparrows in with the Greenfinches and Serins, and a surprise bird in the form of a single Stock Dove.  Getting towards dusk, the Starling numbers built up, giving a bit of a display before flying off (presumably to Cartagena where it’s warmer overnight), a group of about 30 Skylarks flitted past and amongst the White Wagtails gathering was a single Grey Wagtail.

 Common Starlings gathering prior to flying off to roost

 In the old EDAR, a little water brings a lot of birds

Sunday the 2nd November, I spent the morning wandering along the ‘rambla de Albujón’ (past Los Urrutias towards Los Alcazares on the Mar Menor).  I was looking in particular for Jack Snipe here, as it is a usual wintering place, but as the reeds haven’t been cut (yet) this year, there’s hardly any space for either them or Common Snipe (I was surprised not to see a single Snipe all morning, as I walked from the Mar Menor to the third bridge over the rambla and back).  Birds of interest here were three Curlews, plenty of Stonechats, Crag Martins, at least 6 Cetti’s Warblers heard, Kingfisher, a couple of Reed Buntings, 3 Songthrushes, 6 Chiffchaffs, a couple of Water Pipits together with about 15 Meadow Pipits, 20+ White Wagtails, 2 Bluethroats actually seen (plus another 6 heard), and on my way back along the rambla, I heard something that I was sure WASN’T a Reed Bunting, but was similar sounding.  Having a suspicion as to what it could be, I sat and waited, and before long had a troupe of (to me) similar sounding Penduline Tits on the edge of the reedbed, which although mainly against the sun, I managed to get a few photos of.  I guessed a minimum of six birds, but due to how well they blend into the reedbeds, there could easily have been more than ten.  A good ending to my weekends’ birding, even if I didn’t find my ‘sprite’.

 At the 'desembocadura' there were three Curlew hanging around

 Walking back down the rambla, I came across these Penduline Tits