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Jan 15th - 28th. - Sri Lanka. £1750

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May 13th - 21st Bulgaria - £850

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Red-throated Bee-eater

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

Sunday, October 28, 2012

DAY TOUR - OCTOBER 28TH 2012

GAUCIN (SWEET CHESTNUT WOODS)  -  RIO GUADIARO AT ESTACION DE CORTES  -  LLANOS DE LIBAR  - ENCINAS BORRACHES TRACK

Today I was joined by Simon Heffer, who is staying in the village with his family for a week, and by Paul my birding pal who lives in the village.

It was a lovely morning, clear blue sky with very little wind and yes, Paul forgot to put his clock back and got up an hour earlier than he needed to!

We drove the short distance up the hill to the chestnut woods about 1km along the Ronda road. It was very quiet and we hardly saw a bean, a Jay, some fly over Wood Pigeons and a single Hawfinch, a couple of Robins were singing, as was a Cirl Bunting.  When we got  back to the car birds started to appear more frequently: Eurasian Nuthatch (3), Crested Tit (2), Blue Tit, Chaffinch, Great Spotted Woodpecker (2) and another Jay.

At the river Guadiaro there were many birds in the fields, adjacent to the water, which was in heavy flow after recent rains. Over the next hour we listed: Meadow Pipit, Rock Sparrow, Sardinian Warbler, Cetti's Warbler (heard), Blackcap, Serin, Goldfinch, Crag Martin, Grey Heron, White & Grey Wagtails, Great Spotted Woodpecker, Spotless Starling, Stonechat and some common species.

Simon and Paul on the Llanos de Libar track
We arrived at Llanos de Libar around noon just as the cloud started to gather, ominous! After watching a nice Black Redstart we found a small herd of Spanish Ibex sitting high up on a ridge then two Griffon Vultures drifted over. Then we found not one but two Bonelli's Eagles, they put on a nice show before disappearing over the mountains. As we walked along the track we located Blue Rock Thrush, Rock Bunting, Sardinian Warbler, Blackcap and a smaller number of Black Wheatears.

Three views of the valley at Llanos de Libar


As we continued our walk we eventually found our main target bird; RING OUZEL. In fact we found half dozen, a couple of them gave great views, a great result. We returned to the car and sat on a concrete bench to eat our lunch.

A couple of male Ring Ouzels sub-species Alpestris








After a short walk in a cork oak forest we took a short coffee break then we headed to Ronda and beyond. Our next stop was about 10km along the Algeciras road back towards Gaucin. It was the Encinas Borraches track, but it has started raining. Boo Hoo! We sat in the car waiting for the rain to ease off then we went for short walk. There was a huge flock of Golfinches (150+), Serin, Greenfinches, Linnets and a few Stonechats, all were in close proximity to the entrance to the track. As we walked on we flushed a Green Sandpiper then we found a small flock of Rock Sparrows, with a couple of Skylarks. A few Thekla Larks we then located before a huge flock of Corn buntings flew over. Our last new species of the visit was Red-billed Chough as 3 flew over us - then the rain increased and we walked quickly back to the car.

As we drove south back to Gaucin the rain cleared and sky cleared to revel sunny spells and warmer air, because of this we decided to have a second walk in the chestnut woods near the village. It was fairly quiet but we did see Firecrest (3) and number of species recorded earlier. We then drove back into the village to conclude the trip.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

OCTOBER 23rd 2012 - COTO DONANA & EXTREMADURA - 9....


EXTREMADURA TO ANDALUCIA – WITH STOPS AT BONANZA SALT PANS – LAGUNA TARELO, TREBUJENA SALT MARSH AND LAGUNA TORREGUADIARO


STAR BIRD  - WHITE WINGED TERN


We set off at 8:30am and drove directly to Seville; many species were noted from the bus but nothing new for the trip list.

After a lunch stop when we ate a lovely tapas sitting in warm sunshine we set off for our first birding stop at Trebujena marsh. We searched open water and enclosed lagunas for the rare Marbled Duck without success. A lot of work had been done recently to strengthen the laguna banks so we assumed the ducks had been disturbed. We did find: Greenshank, Black-winged Stilt, Avocet, Greater Flamingo, Marsh Harrier and lots of Shoveler.

At Laguna Tarelo we were again disappointed with the low number of birds, however we did see several White-headed Ducks, Common Pochard, Black-necked Grebes, Little Grebe, Green Sandpiper, Common Sandpiper and a couple of Common Waxbills,

Common Waxbill



Most of the Salt Pans were also devoid of birdlife but the main laguna near the pumping station held quite a lot species. We were treated to a fishing exhibition by several Caspian Terns, they were joined by a single Little Tern, a couple of Sandwich Terns and after some debate and later consultation of the photo shown below we had found a White-winged Tern. Great stuff and a very good record.

Juvenile White-winged Tern (formerly White-winged Black Tern)

The water here also held several hundred Greater Flamingos and an amazing count of 22 Great Egrets; I have never seen so many in one place. Black Storks numbered 3 but were still much appreciated. A good selection of waders included 2 new species for our list: Spotted Redshank (14) and Little Stint (2), these were joined by: Sanderling, Dunlin, Curlew Sandpiper (6), Turnstone, Ruff (1) and more Avocet than you can shake a stick at.

Some of the 22 Great White Egrets seen at Bonanza Salt Pans + 1 Grey Heron




We also enjoyed great views of Slender-billed Gull, Red Kite, Booted Eagle, Griffon Vulture, Marsh Harrier and plenty of common species. The flies eventually drove us off as they constantly pestered us.

Our very last birding was done at the Laguna Torreguadiaro near Soto Grande on the coast; we were just 30 minutes from home now so a quick stop in the late afternoon sun was welcomed by the group. We search the reed beds for a wintering Little Bittern without success but there were plenty of other birds to see in the shape of, Mallard, Teal, Gadwall, Moorhen, Coot, Kingfisher, Little Egret, barn Swallow and Crag Martin.

Well that concluded our birding tour we had seen 168 species, we had some memorable sightings and happy memories of a fantastic trip to Coto Donana and Extremadura.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

OCTOBER 22nd 2012 - COTO DONANA & EXTREMADURA - 9....


Santa Marta – Monroy – Trujillo  - Campo Lugar - Madrigalejo Rice fields  - Moheda Reserve


Today we spent a lot of time in search of sandgrouse as both the Pin-tailed and the Black-bellied species had eluded us thus far. It was a dull overcast day, but it remained dry and got quite warm in the afternoon when the sun eventually broke through.

We began our day at 8:30am by driving up to and through Trujillo then onto the open grass fields near to Santa Marta, we checked a favoured field of the Pin-tailed Sandgrouse. Not a grouse in sight but we found 9 Great Bustards, Red Kite, Calandra Lark, Skylark, Meadow Pipit, lapwing and 3 or 4 Hoopoes. For the next two hours we made many stops as we drove to Santa Marta and up to the Monroy – Trujillo road. There were many birds in the fields and the sky always had vultures or kites in view. We came across a dead cow which was surrounded by Griffon Vultures; they were just starting to devour this ‘tasty morsel’.

European tree rog

We also found a Black-winged Kite sitting on a fence post and a male Hen Harrier chasing distant larks. Another dead animal had both Griffon and Black Vulture in attendance whilst a ploughed field held 200+ lapwings and hundreds of Spotless Starlings, we must have seen 10 Hoopoes, 15 Southern Grey Shrikes and thousands of Spanish Sparrows.

We gave up looking for sand grouse at 11:30am and drove into Trujillo to buy lunch and then we headed south towards the rice fields. We turned off the main road onto a country lane that led to Campo Lugar; we stopped to search the fields and to eat our picnic lunch. During this stop we found Raven, Hen harrier, marsh harrier, Red Kite, hundreds of Lapwings and larks and to our great joy we found 3 Little Bustards in the grass not too far from the road. They walked away from us and eventually flew off high to join a huge flock of even more Little Bustards; there were at least 70 of them, a splendid sight. It was whilst we were watching the Bustards that a couple of smaller birds flew across our line of sight. They turned out to be Black-bellied Sandgrouse we watched them until they landed in a nearby ploughed field, we drove nearer but failed to get good views of them as they walked over a brow in the field.

From the open fields we drove to the rice fields near Madrigalejo for our second visit. An hour search produced many sightings of Red Avadavat, Common Waxbill and Zitting Cisticola. We also found Hoopoe, Southern Grey Shrike, two Bluethroat, White Storks, Little Egrets, Serins, Spanish Sparrow, Cetti’s Warbler and Tree Sparrow.

For the latter part of the afternoon we drove to the new ‘Crane Reserve’ at Moheda. We parked near the raised embankment of the new reservoir and as we walked to edge of the embankment we found a couple of Dartford Warblers, a flock of Serins, Sardinian Warbler and we saw some distant Cormorants. Our view of the reservoir was unbroken from the top of the embankment from where we logged: Great White Egret, Grey Heron, Little Egret, Kingfisher, Mallard, Shoveler, Common Pochard, Teal, Northern Pintail, Great crested Grebe, little Grebe, White Wagtail and a few Cattle Egrets flew over.

We walked half way round the reservoir and scanned the surrounding rice fields, this where we found our only Common Cranes of the trip! There was 42 of them feeding in the corner of the nearest field, a great result, but compared to last year, when we found several thousands Cranes in the same location on the same date, it was meagre, to say the least. Further species seen in the scrub included: Common Chiffchaff, Red Avadavat, Blackcap and Sardinian Warbler.

Finally we drove back towards our guest house but we decided to try the rice fields once more. So for half an hour we scoured the fields and hedgerows looking for Penduline Tit but came up with: Common Sandpiper, Green Sandpiper, Common Snipe, Water Pipit, Long-tailed Tit, Common Waxbill, Zitting Cisticola and lots of common species. From the rice fields we drove straight back to the guesthouse to prepare for dinner.

Monday, October 22, 2012

OCTOBER 21st 2012 - COTO DONANA & EXTREMADURA - 9....

MONFRAGUE NATIONAL PARK

Another excellent day of bright sunshine, no wind and temperatures were in the lower twenties. We set from our guesthouse at 8:30am and drove through Trujillo to the national park of Monfrague.


Our first destination was the Castillo de Monfrague which was unfortunately being repaired and the steps we closed with limited access to the castle (Castillo) grounds. The first birds we noted as we left the bus was a pair of Red-billed Chough, they performed very well before flying off over the park. We also saw European Robin, Mistle Thrush and lots of migrating Chaffinches as they flew over the ridge to the south. We walked the 'new' path to the castle and spent an hour searching for the White-rumped Swift without success; however, we did see the spectacle of 200 Griffon Vultures perched up on the rock face of the Salto de Gitano. A few Black Vultures were there too along with a pair of Peregrine Falcons.


The views from the castle were stunning, we could see for miles in all directions, fabulous. Others birds seen flitting about the castle were Crag Martin, Black Redstart, Blue rock thrush and Hawfinch, one particular Hawfinch sat in the morning sun for about 20 minutes we had great ‘scope’ views of it.

One view from the castle over the park

From the Castillo we drove to the base of the Salto de Gitano and stopped at the ‘Mirador’ (view point) where we watched the vultures taking flight and circling just above us. We searched in vain for the swifts again but our efforts were rewarded with the sighting of a SPANISH IMPERIAL EAGLE. We short but good views of this beast as it circled to our right with the vultures, great result. More sightings of Peregrine were had and several Red Kites drifted overhead, many Crag Martins were quartering the rock faces.

The Pinnacles of the Salto de Gitano with resident vultures in flight

At Villareal, a small village in the centre of the park, we stopped for a quick coffee before driving round to the dam where we ate our picnic lunch at the Mirador Malavuelta. A short walk amongst the pines produced very little, other than Chaffinch, blackcap, Greenfinch, Great and Blue Tit.

Our penultimate stop in the park was at the rocky outcrop of Portilla de Tietar where another colony of Griffon Vultures is found. It is also a traditional breeding area for both Eagle Owl and Spanish Imperial Eagle, neither of which were present (or in view) whilst we were there. We saw a pair of noisy Ravens, lots of Griffon Vultures and a few Blue Rock Thrushes, but not the eagle or the owl. A Cetti’s Warbler Called from the riverside below us and we had glimpses of Sardinian Warbler and more Blackcaps before we drove off to have a quick look in the cork woods.

The Portillo de Tietar (Rio Tietar) not as specataclular as the Salto de Gitano but the sight of the Imperial Eagles nest
 We never ventured into the woods because of the time but we scanned from the roadside and found a well marked Woodlark and a few Chaffinches.

As we drove back through the park on our way home we decided to stop at the Salto de Gitano rock face for a second time to look at the vultures. This was an excellent decision as we had superb views of the vultures, with over fifty in sky at any one time, but we also found the mystical WHITE RUMPED SWIFT. There were two of them circling high up above the pinnacle of the Salto de Gitano, what a great result!

Three view of Griffon vulture at the Salto



A Blue Rock Thrush that refused to pop out into the sun (unless I had my back turned)


We left the park at 4pm and drove all the way back to Trujillo, it had become a little cloudy and the temperature had dropped somewhat but we decided to spend a little time in the Plaza Major in the centre of the town. It was a good choice because apart from the hoards, pigeons, Jackdaws, Starlings and Sparrows we did see a pair of Red-rumped Swallows (last year one individual over-wintered there) and more Crag Martins.

More Griffon Vultures - this individual had some strange 'bare' patches on its chest




We arrived back at the guesthouse at 6pm well satisfied with our day in the ‘park’. We have one day left during which we have to search for sandgrouse and cranes, watch this space.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

OCTOBER 20TH 2012 - COTO DONANA & EXTREMADURA - 9...

BELEN PLAIN  -  SANTA MARTA DE MAGASCAR  - MONROY - EMBALSE DE TALAVAN

The day began with a beautiful sunrise and a clear blue sky, it was a little chilly but there was no wind at all. We left our guesthouse at 8:30am just as it was getting light, we drove the short distance to Belen Village and then out onto the plain. What a superb sight, miles of open grassland and untouched landscape the whole area was teaming with birdlife and the morning light was superb.

As we drove towards the height of the plains we stopped several times to look at Hoopoes, we must have seen a dozen in a couple of kilometers, we also saw many Thekla Larks, Spotless Starlings and Corn Buntings. Soon we found one of our target birds, the Little Bustard. There was a flock of at least 100 and then we found more, they were quite distant but unmistakable. Whilst watching the bustards we found a beautiful male hen harrier and a marlin. We also came across several Calandra larks, Red Kites, Griffon Vultures, Ravens and Jackdaws.149 bustards was our final count.

Further along the rack we got a liitle closer the bustards before they took to the air, a lovely sight. A couple of Mistle Thrushes were note-worthy, as was Southern Grey Shrike and huge flocks of Spanish Sparrows (we finally got great views of those).

After a short coffee break and a trip to the supermarket in Trujillo we drove out towards CASARES, we stopped on a bridge on the old road. We sat for half an hour to watch what species came by and we were pleasantly surprised. Many Spanish Sparrows were joined by Blackcap, Common Whitethroat, Dartford Warbler, Willow Warbler and Chiffchaff in the bushes. Near the pools below us we saw Little Grebe, Common Kingfisher, Cetti's Warbler (heard only), Greenfinch and Goldfinch.

Further along the old road to Casares we turned off to Santa Marta de Magascar and then stopped to look over some large, hedge-less fields where we found Calandra Lark, Skylark, Meadow Pipit, Water Pipit, our first Whinchat of the trip and Northern Wheatear. In the distance we saw Black and Griffon Vultures.

We ate our picnic lunch along a nearby track where the only new species was a Hare. We then spent a couple of hours scouring the fields for sandgrouse without success before driving to the Embalse (reservoir) near Talavan. Our the next hour or so we found a good variety of species despite the water level being very low. Bluethroat, Great White Egret, Eurasian Spoonbill, Water Rail, were joined by many common species. Our best sighting was of a pair of adult Bonelli's Eagle in text book plumage and fantastic light.

last of all we stopped at a bridge over the Rio Almonte on the road to Casares, in nice afternoon light we watched Crag martin

Saturday, October 20, 2012

OCTOBER 19TH 2012 - COTO DONANA TO EXTREMADURA


COTO DONANA TO EXTREMADURA

MATALASCANAS CLIFFS – VEGAS ALTAS RICE FIELDS – MADRIGALEJO RICE FIELDS – PRESA SIERRA BRAVA

Our Transfer day began as we left the hotel in Matalaascanas at 8:30am and headed for the cliffs at the edge of town. It was chilly and very misty as we drove through the town but as we neared the cliffs the mist lifted and we could see a wide expanse of the Atlantic Ocean. 

The view from the cliffs at Matalascanas at dawn

We spent half an hour looking out to sea without seeing much at all, a few Northern Gannets; a couple of Caspian Terns, about 5 Sandwich Terns and two Cory’s Shearwaters flew by. On the shore we saw Sanderling, Lesser Black-backed and Yellow-legged Gulls. 

Our drive to Extremadura took about 3 hours during which time we logged Red Kite, Northern Lapwing, Azure-winged and Eurasian Magpies, Common Buzzard and few common species.
The first place we stopped was on a small bridge near Vegas Altas in Extremadura; we sat and ate our picnic lunch in warm sunshine. The noise from the local flocks of sparrows was very loud; we estimated that a thousand birds were in the area. We also saw many White Storks and from the bridge we found Water Rail, Cetti’s Warbler, Common Chiffchaff and identified Spanish as well as House Sparrows.



Next we made two stops in the rice fields near Madrigalejo where was watched small parties of Red Avadavat, Common Waxbill and Indian Silverbill, all three are ‘exotic’ escape species that are doing rather well in the area! Other species seen were Tree Sparrow, Southern Grey Shrike, Grey Wagtail and White Stork.

Three pictures of an, as yet, unidentified species. We think it is a juvenile Indian Silverbill if you know different please let me know




Further along the road we stopped to admire a couple of Great Bustards and a Little Owl. Near the dam (presa) at sierra Brava we found Hoopoe, Thekla Lark, Great-crested grebe, Common Coot and a couple of thousand ducks, most of which were Mallards.

The last leg of the journey was up through Zorita where we found a flock of some 20 Ravens, a Marsh Harrier and lots of Azure-winged magpies. We did stop near Trujillo for walk along a quit lane where we found Blackcap, Sardinian Warbler, Blue Tit and European Robin.


We finally arrived at our guest house at 5pm where we concluded the birding for day.