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).
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