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Jan 15th - 28th. - Sri Lanka. £1750

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Red-throated Bee-eater

Red-throated Bee-eater
join us for a fantastic tour of The Gambia this November

Monday, February 28, 2011

DAY 5 - 10 DAYS IN ANDALUCIA - Feb 28th 2011

RIO GENAL - MANILVA HEATHLAND - TORREGUADIARO - SAN ENRIQUE - PALMONES

Today Chris, Penny and myself were joined by Christine and John who are staying in the campo a couple of kilometers out of the village.

John, Christine, Penny & Chris


The morning was bright and sunny, but a chilly north wind was blowing. We drove down to the bridge at the Rio Genal where we parked and walked upriver. We found the usual plethora of bird species: Blackcaps, Black Redstarts, Chaffinch, Greenfinch, Goldfinch, Serin. Both Grey and White Wagtails were found on the shingle banks of the river and we did get a few glimpses of Common Kingfisher. We had a great time watching several Hawfinches and a superb find was a Great White Egret wading in the river. After watching the Egret we then found a Goshawk which patrolled the nearest wooded hillside! Wow a super start to the day.

On the Heathland at Manilva we had good views of Common Buzzard, Short-toed Eagle, Crag Martin, Sardinian Warbler, Linnet and some excellent short views of Dartford Warbler.

At Torreguadiaro laguna we found the usual Little Owl, Lesser Kestrel, Meadow Pipit, Corn Bunting, Stonechat , Little Egret, Cattle Egret, Grey Heron, Coot, Moorhen and the male Shoveler was still there.
Hawfinch


Lesser Kestrel at Torreguadiaro

Lunch at San Enrique found us watching many Serins, Tree Sparrows, Jay, more Cattle Egrets and a Grey Wagtail in the stream.

Palmones river mouth was very windy but the warm sunshine still felt good, the tide was just turning and small mud patches became exposed as we walked along the promenade to the river mouth. The wader numbers had certainly increased, we found Dunlin (100+), Ringed Plover (200+), Sanderling (50+), Grey Plover, Kentish Plover, Redshank, Greenshank, Knot (1), Curlew, Whimbrel, Spoonbill (8), White Stork (2), Grey Heron (25) and two Black kites came upriver from Algeciras Bay struggling against the strong north wind.
Great White Egret at Rio Genal - a great local patch bird


Tree Sparrow - nesting in an old lampost at San Enrique

At the western side of the marsh we viewed the area from the raised hide at the municipal park. En-route we found a single Hoopoe and my first Red-rumped Swallow of the year! We also found two Ospreys, one carried a fish taken from the bay. Good views were had of both male and female Marsh Harrier and we added Common Sandpiper, Black-winged Stilt, Snipe and a lot more Curlew and Whimbrel (both of these species have increased in number over the last week).

All in all we found 79 species, a very good total for a windy day and with more and more migrants arriving this total will soon be beaten.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

DAY 4 - 10 DAYS IN ANDALUCIA - GAUCIN & CASARES

Penny and Chris spent their fourth day with us here in sunny Gaucin. We had a relaxed quiet day and stayed in and around Gaucin for most of the day. Our morning was spent walking along one of my favourite tracks to the north of the village. it took 3.5 hours and was littered with wildlife events. We had several sightings of Firecrest and brief views of Song Thrush, Blackcap, Sardinian Warbler and Jay. Before long the raptors were up on the thermals, many Griffon Vultures drifted over and a very low flying Black Kite appeared briefly. this was the first of the year for me and it was quickly followed by another 10, they were seen rising on the thermals. Later I found out that over 70 Black Kites were seen on the far side of the village around lunchtime! We also had distant views of 3 Short-toed Eagles and we heard a Common Buzzard. There was at least five Great Spotted Woodpeckers drumming, one of which showed well.



Spanish Festoon


The walk took us through lovely Cork Oak woodland with areas of pine, Sweet Chestnut, Olive and Almond. We saw quite a few butterflies the list included: Speckled Wood, Wall Brown, Small heath, Spanish Festoon, Cleopatra, Large Tortoiseshell, Brimstone, Bath White and Large White.

After lunch, which was taken at home, we drove down to a friend's Finca near Casares where we spent a couple hours looking for Orchids and watching birds from their terrace. There were two species of orchid on show and in good numbers, Sombre Bee-Orchid and Mirror Orchid. The birds were good too, we saw many Griffon Vultures, Red Billed Chough, Short-toed Eagle, Lesser kestrel, Raven, Blackcap, Serin, Zitting Cisticola, Black Redstart and Song Thrush.

Sombre Bee Orchid - Ophrys fusca

Mirror Orchid - Ophrys speculum








We left around 6pm and drove back to gaucin for a delicious evening meal at home.


Saturday, February 26, 2011

DAY 3 - 10 DAYS IN ANDALUCIA - GUADIARO VALLEY

The superb weather continues! Another 20c day with unbroken sunshine. Penny, Chris and I set off at 8:30am and headed northward to Cortes de la Frontera. We stopped at the Estacion de Cortes and took a walk along the river. the mist was still rising from the water as we arrived but the sun soon broke through.

A misty start at the river Guadiaro near Estacion de Cortes

We soon started birds along the track, Chaffinches and Blackcaps were in full song as was Cetti's Warbler and Serin. We could also hear Mistle Thrush singing but failed to find one. Over a couple of hours we had many good sightings which included Firecrest (2), Rock Sparrow (2), Cirl Bunting, Grey Wagtail, Serin, mnay Stonechats and lots of Chiffchaffs. We found a couple of Long-tailed tits collecting nesting material and later we found them at their nest adding the finishing touches.

Next we stopped at a mirador just before Benaojan village, from there we saw Red-billed chough (20+), Short-toed Eagle, Griffon Vulture, Blue Rock Thrush, Sardinian Warbler and the ubiquitous Stoenchat.

Just above Montejaque we turned onto to a track that overlooked a wide valley with a laguna at its base. We found several Black Wheatears, Blue Rock Thrush and Linnets, but the real highlight was over 150 griffon Vultures! the vultures arrived from all directions and dropped down behind a small hillock out of site, there was obviuosly something very dead there, they came in their droves, quite a spectacle. As we wathced the vultures circling above we found Peregrine Falcon (2) and Raven.

We ate our lunch and then drove the short distance to Puerta de Tabniza, just the other of the valley from where we were. A walk produced a lot of butterflies as well as Spanish Ibex, more Ravens, Black Wheaters and Thekla Larks.


Spanish Ibex


The butterfly list included: Provance Hairstreak, Cleopatra, Brimstone, Spanish Festoon, Gatekeeper, Speckled Wood, Long-tailed Blue, Red Admiral, Bath White, Large & Small Whites and Swallowtail.
Spanish Festoon


lastly we visited a cork oak wood where we found Nuthtach, Firecrest, Chaffinch and we heard Wood Lark and Mistle Thrush singing. In the fields near where we parked we found Mistle Thrush (4), Corn Bunting, Black Redstart and Stonechat. A Short-toed Eagle flew over giving us our best views yet of this species, they are migrants and our sightings of 3 in 3 days must represent early migrating birds.

Friday, February 25, 2011

DAY 2 - 10 DAYS IN ANDALUCIA - RIO GENAL, SOTO GRANDE, PALMONES

Another excellent day of unbroken sunshine and temperatures around 20C. This second day into the 10 day tour with Chris and Penny found us at the Rio Genal at 8am. on a pre-breakfast sortie. We spent an hour watching many species, the best being several sightings of Hawfinch, also Grey Wagtail, White Wagtail, Serin, Cetti's Warbler (heard only) and many common species. A drumming Great spotted Woodpecker kept us guessing for a while before eventually showing.


After breakfast we drove down to the coast and spent a hour on the heath near Manilva where we found Sardinian and Dartford Warbler, lots of Stonechats and Linnets and a distant Short-toed Eagle. We also relocated the red and black toad which I was found a couple of days ago - it was accompanied by another toad about 10 times bigger. They turned out to be Common Toads Bufo bufo.


Common Toad Bufo bufo - The very large female dwarfs the tiny male




Next we visited the laguna at Torreguadiaro where we watched a school of Dolphins off-shore, chasing a shoal of fish, they were joined by many Gannets diving in trying to capitalise on the dolphins find! In and around the laguna we found Little Owl, Lesser Kestrel, Purple Swamphen, Cattle and Little Egret, Grey Heron, Meadow Pipit, Zitting Cisticola, Shoveler, Little Grebe, Coot and a Kingfisher.


At San Enrique woods there were many Serins singing along the telegraph wires and a flick of some 20 Tree Sparrows delighted my companions.



We walked the promenade at Palmones in lovely afternoon sunshine ticking off many new species on the list. Spoonbill, White Stork, Curlew, Whimbrel, Ringe, Grey and Kentish Plover, Dunlin, Sanderling, Redshank, Greenshank and Common Sandpiper. On the sand bar we found a superb adult Mediterranean Gull, Sandwich Terns and more of the waders. From the hide on the west side of the salt marsh we had great views of Marsh Harrier, Osprey, Spoonbill, Black Winged Stilt and many of the waders named earlier.

An Osprey fishing in the Rio Palmones - taken by Penny Robinson



Finally we stopped just north of San Roque to admire the numerous White Storks on their platform nests, many of which were sitting on eggs. As we drove up the Guadiaro valley back to Gaucin we stopped to watch a flock of Lesser Kestrels at their nest site on a railway bridge, they performed wonderfully and were a fitting ending to our day's birding.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

DAY 1 - 10 DAYS IN ANDALUCIA - Feb 24th 2011

A great start to Penny and Chris's holiday with us here at Gaucin. I met them both at Malaga Airport at 10:20am, they arrived on time and they welcomed the lovely warm air as they stepped from the terminal building into bright sunshine. The weather was perfect with unbroken sunshine all day. We set off for the nearby reserve at Guadalmar, just 5 minutes from the airport. After unpacking scopes , cameras and binoculars we were off birding by 11am.




View from one of the hides on the Guadalhorce Reserve

House Martins were picking up mud from a nearby puddle and many Swallows zig-zagged across the sky above us as climbed the ramp onto the reserve. We sat on a bench to admire the view and the birdlife and one of our first birds was a Booted Eagle, it flew over and then began to circle, climbing on the thermals and disappeared from view, a very good bird to start with. From the bench we saw Little Egret, Coot and Moorhen were just a short distance away on the river whilst Cormorants basked in the sunshine. We spent some time watching the antics of the squabbling Monk Parakeets at their nest colony before walking down to the river mouth.

Near the beach we found Crested Lark, Little Egret (eating a huge fish), Common Sandpiper, lots of Black Redstarts, White Wagtail and a few Goldfinches. From our vantage point on the embankment we could see thousands of gulls out to see along with many Gannets that were diving for fish. We also found a flock of Common Scoter close to the shorline which was a pleasant surprise. On the rocks along the shore we saw a flock of roosting Sanderling and a single Turnstone.

We then walked back upriver and crossed over a bridge into the reserve proper, along the way we got grips with Sardinian Warbler, Serin and Zitting Cisticola. Good views of several butterflies was also had, Small and Large White, Swallowtail, Copper Brown, Clouded Yellow and a Green Striped White.


Green Striped White


From the hides we had good views over the lagoons where we found White headed Duck, Little and Black-necked Grebes, Pond Terrapins and not much else. We walked slowly back to the car having had a lovely afternoon in warm sunshine with some great sightings.

Zitting Cisticola seen along the fence-line on the way back to the car









Wednesday, February 23, 2011

DAY TOUR - FEB 23RD - GENAL VALLEY, SOTO GRANDE, CASARES, PALMONES

Claire and Paul (shown at Palmones) are staying in Gaucin for a week and joined me today for a tour down to the coast and what a great day we had.




We had incredible warm sunny weather with a cloudless blue sky, excellent for birding. At the Genal River it was a bit chilly at 8:15am but the number of birds soon warmed us up. The usual crowd of Cetti's Warbler, Blackcap. Black Redstart, Song Thrushes, Meadow Pipits, White Wagtails, Serin, Goldfinch, Chaffinch, Greenfinch, Great spotted Woodpecker and a flock of some 20+ Hawfinches were present and we had an added bonus of a male Cirl Bunting and a Goshawk circling and patroling a wooded ridge.



At Crestellina we watched many Griffon Vultures, Crested Larks, lots of Stonechats and plenty of Black Redstarts. We then drove into the hillside near Casares where a friend of mine was bird-ringing. We spent an hour or so watching a bevy of birds being processed by the ringers John and David. We saw Serin, Robin, Blackcap, Sardinian Warbler, Blue Tit, Cetti's Warbler and Cirl Bunting in the hand! Wow that was a great experience and to top it off we found a Hoopoe on the track leading from the Finca and a couple of Red-billed Chough in the field to our right.



We reached the coast road and turned onto the heathland near Soto Grande to look for Dartford Warblers. We found plenty of Stonechats, meadow pipits, Crested larks and Sardinian Warblers but no Dartys. A small 'kettle' of raptors in the distance held 2 Short-toed Eagles, a Common Buzzard and what was probably a Bonelli's Eagle! One interesting animal we did find was a black and red toad - can't find an ID for it - do you know what it is?

We made a quick stop to look at the Monk Parakeet colony along the A7 near Torreguadiaro before pulling into the small nature reserve at laguna Torreguadiaro. We spent an hour or so watching a few water birds: Common Coot, Moorhen, Little Grebe, Cattle Egret, Northern Shoveler, Teal. Mallard and a few Terrapins. In the old tower the Lesser Kestrels were settled alongside 2 Little Owls. From the boardwalk along the beach we watched Northern Gannets diving for fish and many Chiffchaffs hawking insects from the reeds. In the grassy scrub we found more Meadow Pipits, Crested Larks and Black Redstarts. Back at the car we watched Spotless Starlings singing in the sunshine whilst Barn Swallows and House Martins flew overhead.

We stopped at the woods in San Enrique to eat our lunch whilst watching Tree Sparrows, Serins, White Wagtails and Blackcaps.

The rest of the afternoon was spent at Palmones, first we walked along the pormenade to the river mouth and then we drove round to the municipal park on the west side of the salt marsh. there were many waders on the mud and sand banks during our stay at low tide. We found Redshank, Greenshank, Common Sandpiper, Curlew, Whimbrel, Grey Plover, Ringed Plover, Dunlin, Sanderling, Kentish Plover, Sandwich Tern and the usual gulls. We also had distant views of an Osprey and much closer views of a Marsh Harrier.

From the elevated hide in the municipal park we had great views of a an Osprey (eating a fish and then bathing), we also saw Corn Bunting, Zitting Cisticola, Spanish Sparrow, Black-winged stilt, Common Snipe, Eurasian Spoonbill, White Stork , Grey Heron and a Kingfisher hovering and diving for fish.
CORN BUNTING
SPAINSH SPARROW

lastly we stopped at san Roque to admire the good numbers of White Storks on their nests, Paul took many pictures and we all drove home having had agreat day out in the sun with plenty of birds on our list.

Friday, February 18, 2011

DAY TOUR - FEB 18TH 2011 - SOTO GRANDE, PALMONES, PINAR DEL REY

a lovely spring morning with bright, warm, sunshine, no wind and hardly a cloud in the sky. Rory, Bernadette, Mike and Bridgette met me outside my house for a day-out birding on the coast. We drove down through the Genal Valley, passed Casares and onto the coast road at Sabinillas. We stopped just outside Torreguadiaro to watch Monk Parakeets at their nest site, their nests, a huge array of sticks, house several pairs in each clump.


The gang at Palmones

At the laguna in Torreguadiaro we spent a wonderful couple of hours watching many species, the laguna was like a mill pond and the sea was extremely calm. As we circumnavigated the water we notched several good species, Crested Larks, Chiffchaff, Blackcap, Little Egret, Little Grebe and Meadow Pipit started us off. We then bumped into a large flock of Greenfinches, Goldfinches and a couple of Serins.


At the far side of the pool we watched a couple of pairs of Lesser Kestrels trying to evict Feral Pigeons and a Little Owl from their nest sites in the old watch-towers. It was very entertaining stuff.

The squatter - a Little Owl in the lesser kestrel's nest hole

Lesser kestrel taking a rest after evicting a Little Owl from its nest hole

Next we watched a couple of Zitting Cisticolas feeding in the scrub just as a Cetti's Warbler popped out of cover and chased off one of the Zitters - not very friendly.
The sky above laguna was filled with early migrants in the shape of House Martins and Barn Swallows, they were joined by the resident Crag Martins who were probably getting a bit fed up of these invading pests that were eating all their insect food!
We then drove round to the west side of Soto grande and visited the nature reerve found there. We spent an hour looking for Purple Swamphen but came away with lots of Moorhens and Coots. One spectacle was about 20 Chiffchaffs feeding on flying insects over the water, the flew from perches high up in the reeds and caught the insects on the wing! They were joined by a couple Reed Buntings.
A brief visit to the woods at San Enrique added a flock of 20 Siskin, Short-toed Treecreeper, lots of Meadow Pipits, White Wagtails and a few Tree Sparrows. lots of Blackcaps were in song along with Robins and a Cetti's Warbler.


We spent lunchtime at Palmones looking over the salt marsh and river mouth. Although it was high tide there was still plenty to see, a group of 5 Spoonbills started us off, then Little Egret, Redshank,Whimbrel, Grey Plover, Dunlin, Ringed Plover and Sanderling soon followed. There was also a large flock of gulls and Sandwich Terns, with Cormorant and Mallard making up the numbers. On the way back to the car we found 2 ospreys amd 2 Marsh Harriers.
We ate our picnic lunch whilst soaking up the warm sunshine before setting off to the west side of the marsh. We then found 3 Common Sandpipers, a Kingfsher (that hovered over small pools in the marsh) and a beautiful male Marsh Harrier. As we watched a distant Greenshank we found a Water Pipit which fl;ew from the marsh and landed in a tree not too far away from us. We all had good views of the pipit before a Sparrowhawk came along and grabbed it!!! If only the camera was on film mode! Poor pipit - it was my bird of the day ........and the Sparrowhawks no doubt.
Water Pipit just before a Sparrowhawk took it!!!

During this spell we also found Speckled Wood, Swallowtail and Spanish Festoon butterflies.
From the elevated hide on this side of the marsh we had better views of the Spoonbills and we also found 8 Curlews, 5 Black-winged Stilts and another Osprey perched on a post.
We next visited the pine woods at Pinar del Rey where a Great Spotted Woodpecker entertained us for a while and Jay, Common Buzzard, Common Starling and Stonechat went on the list. On the way back to the car we found a number of Ophrys tenthredinifera Sawfly Orchid


Ophrys Tenthredinifera - Sawfly Orchid


Lastly we stopped at the roadside beneath Sierra Crestellina where we watched many Griffon Vultures and a small flock of Red-billed Chough. We finished off back in the village at 5:30pm, our list held 65 species, not too bad with some good birds to boot!