Wednesday, 29 April 2015

Trip to the ‘Saladares del Guadalentín’

Although I’m out most of the time in the Spring looking for migrants, a special time for me is my first visit of the year to the ’Saladares del Guadalentín’ when I know that the Rollers have arrived.  The Roller, a bird about the size of a Jackdaw but predominantly brown, blue and black, is a fairly late arrival, and so once they’ve arrived I know that I can see them and also many of the specialities of the plains.

So when last week I heard that Rollers had been seen, I decided to fit a trip down to the ‘Saladares’ into my weekend schedule, and on Saturday after the almost obligatory trip to the lighthouse gardens at Cabo de Palos first thing, I headed off towards Alhama de Murcia.  I got to the ‘saladares’ at just after 11 0´clock – a bit on the late side for there, as it was starting to get hot.  I headed straight to the Guadalentín  river valley where the Rollers can normally be found, and there they were, two pairs, with the males doing their thing – chattering away and doing their ‘Red Arrows’ flight acrobatics.  Always such a spectacle to see, I was mesmerised by them for ages, hardly noticing the accompanying cast of about 10 Bee-eaters, and the songs of Cetti’s Warblers and Nightingales in the valley below.

 A sequence of the acrobatic display of one of the male Rollers

And some closer views of a Roller

After a while they stopped their displays and drifted off, presumably to find food, and so I continued on my exploration of the area.  The ´saladares´ have very few tarmacked roads - it’s mainly mud tracks between the fields that you have to use, which when it’s been wet, can be very tricky.  Luckily it hadn’t been wet of late so they were quite useable.   Different bird species seem to keep to different areas of the ‘saladares’, so on my circuit I decided to have a look next for larks.  I’d already seen a few Short-toed Larks and Crested Larks in some fields on my way to the Rollers, so now I wanted Lesser Short-toed and Calandras.  I thought it might be a little too late in the day, but the testosterone must be at its peak at the moment as quite a few males of both species were up in the air singing away.  Never easy to photograph, I managed a few flight shots and then came across a L.S.T.Lark on the deck that DIDN’T disappear the moment I got out of the car.

 Short-toed Lark ...

... and close relative, the Lesser Short-toed Lark ...

... and not quite so close a relative, Calandra Lark 

Continuing on the track I was on, I came to a crossroads where a male Little Bustard had been keeping low in some weeds and shot out when I reached them at a rapid rate of knots giving me a real shock!  As it flew off from beside me, I could hear the characteristic noise that the wings make (a ‘sis-sis-sis’, I presume giving rise to its Spanish name, ‘Sisón’).  Far too fast for me to photograph, but further along the track I did find a pair of Black-bellied Sandgrouse and managed to get a record shot or two before they ‘slithered’ away tortoise-like.

 If you can make them out, a pair of Black-bellied Sandgrouse slinking away

On another track again with waste land on either side I heard the typical song of a ‘sylvia’ warbler so stopping the car I waited for it to make its way over towards me, which it did, and then started singing to me – very inquisitive are Spectacled Warblers when you enter their territory!

 Inquisitive Spectacled Warbler

It was while I was photographing this that I noticed a distant raptor gradually making its way towards me.  It didn’t come that close, but close enough for me to identify it as a juvenile Golden Eagle and get a record shot of it.  The only other raptor of note (i.e. apart from Common Kestrels) was a light morph Booted Eagle that drifted through.

 A distant juvenile Golden Eagle

 Pale morph Booted Eagle

So that was it, a few hours seeing some very nice birds well (and others maybe not so well).  There were only two noticeable birds missing, Great Spotted Cuckoo (probably too late in the day) and Rufous Bush-chat which probably hadn’t come in yet, and I wasn’t too bothered, as it’s a great excuse to return there in a week or two’s time.

Some more photos taken on the trip
 Little Ringed Plover

 A close Jackdaw ...

 ... and a distant Bee-eater

Full list of birds seen
Little Grebe (Tachybaptus ruficollis); Golden Eagle (Aquila chrysaetos); Booted Eagle (Hieraaetus pennatus); Common Kestrel (Falco tinnunculus); Red-legged Partridge (Alectoris rufa); Moorhen (Gallinula chloropus); Little Bustard (Tetrax tetrax); Black Winged Stilt (Himantopus himantopus); Little Ringed Plover (Charadrius dubius); Stone Curlew (Burhinus oedicnemus); Yellow-legged Gull (Larus michahellis); Black-bellied Sandgrouse (Pterocles orientalis); Woodpigeon (Columba palumbus); Collared Dove (Streptopelia decaocto); Turtle Dove (Streptopelia turtur); Pallid Swift (Apus pallidus); Bee-eater (Merops apiaster); Roller (Coracias garrulous); Hoopoe (Upupa epops); Crested Lark (Galerida cristata); Calandra Lark (Melanocorypha calandra); Short-toed Lark (Calandrella brachydactyla); Lesser Short-toed Lark (Calandrella rufescens); Swallow (Hirundo rustica); Red-rumped Swallow (Hirundo daurica); Stonechat (Saxicola torquatus); Blackbird (Turdus merula); Cetti’s Warbler (Cettia cettia); Spectacled Warbler (Sylvia conspicillata); Sardinian Warbler (Sylvia melanocephala); Woodchat Shrike (Lanius senator); Southern Grey Shrike (Lanius meridionalis); Magpie (Pica pica); Jackdaw (Corvus monedula); Spotless Starling (Sturnus unicolor); House Sparrow (Passer domesticus) Serin (Serinus serinus); Greenfinch (Carduelis chloris); Goldfinch (Carduelis carduelis); Linnet (Carduelis cannabina); Corn Bunting (Miliaria calandra).

Happy birding,


For more up-to-date details of my birding exploits, search for 'Richard Howard' on FaceBook

Tuesday, 28 April 2015

Trip to the ‘El Hondo/El Fondo’ Reserve in Alicante

It’s not often that I take a trip out of the province of Murcia, but having had a long weekend at the ‘Delta del Ebro’ where I missed two lifers, when I heard about a ‘Spain-tick’ at the El Hondo reserve in the form of a Laughing Gull, only an hour up the coast, I thought I’d take a look.  Plus I wanted to check out all the changes I’d heard had been made to the information centre area.  So, on Saturday 18th April after checking the lighthouse gardens at Cabo de Palos and then doing some household tasks, I made my way up to El Hondo, arriving at just after 1pm.  I went directly to the visitors centre, and I must admit I was quite impressed with what I saw there.  On my previous visit with Mick Brewer earlier in the Spring, there was heavy earth-moving machinery everywhere, but now the visitors centre was more or less on an island, the water surrounding it not being particularly deep – ideal for Marbled Duck and waders.

 For those who've not seen it yet, one of the pools that surround the visitors centre

I wasn’t 100% certain as to where to go, knowing only that I was looking for the furthest hide on the ‘green route’ on the ‘La Raja’ pool.  This is quite a walk, and I was quite pleased that it was a relatively cool day (with the temperature ‘only’ reaching 24ºC in the heat of the afternoon).  I made my way round the ‘Raja’ pool, stopping at each of the observation hides (as much for a short rest in the shade as anything else), but although I saw some good birds, there was no sign of the gull.

Some of the birds seen on my way around the lagoon
 Adult Mediterranean Gull

 Greater Flamingos
 Purple Heron
Grey Heron
 Cattle Egret
 Another Purple Heron
 Black-headed Gull
 Another Cattle Egret
 Red-crested Pochard
 Male Black Winged Stilt
 Female Black Winged Stilt
 Squacco Heron

I finally got back to the information centre, and decided that I would go and sit at the ‘Volcam’ hide and have my sandwiches there, as normally when I go to this hide it is in the morning, and so with bad light (always looking into the sun).  By now though, it was late enough in the afternoon to have the sun to one side, and what was more important, the hide had a bench to sit on!

 Marbled Duck (or Teal as it was formerly known)

So I stayed there and had lunch while people drifted in and out. I kept an eye on the groups of Black-headed and Mediterranean Gulls that were on the various islands, and I got talking to some Irish people who I later found out were ‘FaceBook’ friends of mine (hi Brian and Rachel), and had just about had enough of being there when I noticed another distant spit of land to the far left had some gulls on it.  Scoping through them, Brian and Rachel must have thought I’d gone mad when suddenly changing from whatever subject we were talking about I said ‘I think I’ve got it!’  And with the magnification ranked up to the full 60x, there it was in the heat haze, totally unmistakeable, being an almost blue-grey colour as opposed to the white and light grey of the Black-headeds and Meds.   A first winter bird, larger than the Black-headeds, about the size of a Med., dark almost all over with a dark bill and upper breast.  Boy was I happy!  We sat watching it for a while and then I decided It was time to make my way back home, so I left at about 5-30pm.

 A couple of 'record' shots of the Laughing Gull, in the centre of the picture.  Note the much darker colour compared to the Black-headed Gulls.

Full list of birds seen
Little Grebe (Tachybaptus ruficollis); Great Crested Grebe (Podiceps cristatus); Mallard (Anas platyrhynchos); Shelduck (Tadorna tadorna); Pochard (Aythya farina); Red-Crested Pochard (Netta rufina); Shoveler (Anas clypeata); White-headed Duck (Oxyura leucocephala);  Marbled Teal (Marmaronetta angustirostris); Little Egret (Egretta garzetta); Cattle Egret (Bubulcus ibis); Squacco Heron (Ardeola ralloides); Little Bittern (Ixobrychus minutes); Grey Heron (Ardea cinerea); Purple Heron (Ardea purpurea); Greater Flamingo (Phoenicopterus roseus); Marsh Harrier (Circus aeruginosus); Common Kestrel (Falco tinnunculus); Moorhen (Gallinula chloropus); Coot (Fulica atra); Crested Coot (Fulica cristata); Purple Swamphen (Porphyrio porphyrio);  Collared Pratincole (Glareola pratincola); Black Winged Stilt (Himantopus himantopus); Avocet (Recurvirostra avosetta); Little Ringed Plover (Charadrius dubius); Stone Curlew (Burhinus oedicnemus); Common Sandpiper (Actitis hypoleucos); Little Stint (Calidris minuta); Curlew Sandpiper (Calidris ferruginea); Green Sandpiper (Tringa ochropus); Wood Sandpiper Tringa glareola), Yellow-legged Gull (Larus michahellis); Black-headed Gull (Larus ridibundus); Mediterranean Gull (Larus melanocephalus); Laughing Gull Larus atricilla); Woodpigeon (Columba palumbus); Collared Dove (Streptopelia decaocto); Pallid Swift (Apus pallidus); Bee-eater (Merops apiaster); Hoopoe (Upupa epops); Crested Lark (Galerida cristata); Swallow (Hirundo rustica); Red-rumped Swallow (Hirundo daurica); House Martin(Delichon urbicum); Cetti’s Warbler (Cettia cettia); Fan-tailed Warbler (Cisticola juncidis); Reed Warbler(Acrocephalus scirpaceus); Great Reed Warbler (Acrocephalus arundinaceas; Sardinian Warbler (Sylvia melanocephala); Woodchat Shrike (Lanius senator); Southern Grey Shrike (Lanius meridionalis); Jackdaw (Corvus monedula); Spotless Starling (Sturnus unicolor); House Sparrow (Passer domesticus) Serin (Serinus serinus); Greenfinch (Carduelis chloris); Goldfinch (Carduelis carduelis) Corn Bunting (Miliaria calandra).

Happy birding,


For more up to date birding information, search for ´Richard Howard' on FaceBook