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Jan 2nd - 5th - Somerset Levels

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Feb 16th - March 3rd Costa Rica - full

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Red-throated Bee-eater

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

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

TUESDAY 22ND OCTOBER 2013 - 8 DAY TOUR - THE FINAL MORNING

GUADALHORCE - MALAGA AIRPORT

After driving down from Extremadura yesterday, Mike and Lorna went off the their relatives holiday home whilst Bob and myself spent the night at a hotel near Malaga Airport.

Bob's flight was not due until later in the morning so we had a little time to kill, so we went to the superb Nature Reserve at the Rio Guadalhorce. We only had an hour so we stood on the west bank of the reserve and scanned from there. Bob hadn't seen Monk Parakeets on the trip until now, there were a couple of flocks with at least 100 birds flying around. We also saw a Mediterranean Gull sitting on the beach and 3 Booted Eagles were perched in the trees with over 30 Great Cormorants. Out at sea we found a single Common Scoter (female), several Northern Gannets and a pod of Bottle Nosed Dolphins. I also scoped a few Mediterranean Shearwaters which were gliding by but very far out to sea.

Other birds seen were Spotless Starling, Serin, Cetti's Warbler, Sardinian Warbler, Common Sandpiper and
a Marsh Harrier.

The trip list finally finished at 175 with two other species heard (Tawny Owl & Water Rail).

MONDAY 21ST OCTOBER 2013 - 8 DAY TOUR - DAY 8



TRANSFER DAY – EXTREMADURA TO ANDALUICA

Trujillo to Malaga with stops at Vegas Altas rice fields – Moheda Crane Reserve – Embalse Lenge
Another superb day weather wise, the thunder storms had passed and we had a clear sky with no wind, the temperature remained cool first thing.

We left our lovely guest house and our excellent hosts, Martin and Claudia, and set off southward for our long journey to Malaga. It was just getting light as we left the village and by the time we had reached Vegas Altas rice fields the light was perfect. We stopped several times to search for Common Cranes and in doing so we found: White Storks, hundreds of Cattle Egrets, Grey Herons and 3 Great Bustards. A couple of Common Buzzards and a Marsh Harrier were all the raptors we saw. As we drove away from the area 3 Common Cranes flew over the road, quite high up and it was too late to stop and scope them.

La Moheda is a nature reserve designed specifically to cater for the winter visit of thousands of Cranes and that is where we headed next. As we arrived we could hear many cranes calling in the near distance but our view was obscured by a high embankment which was built to hold a large amount of water to supply the rice fields.

So we walked up onto the embankment and scoped from there. In the water we saw hundreds of Mallard, Shoveler and Gadwall, Grey Herons, Great Cormorants, a couple of Green Sandpipers and a White Wagtail. The Common Cranes we now in scoping distance but to get photographs we drove along some of the tracks around the rice fields. The rice had recently been harvested so the birds were feeding in the stubble; many Whites Storks, Northern Lapwing, Little and Cattle Egrets and Grey Herons joined over 1000 Common Cranes. We could see flocks of them everywhere and at one stage there were at least 1000 in the air, what a sight and what a noise.

From La Moheda we drove some 120 kilometers south to visit a large reservoir in the hope of finding Bonelli’s Eagle. Just south of Merida we turned off the autovia and headed eastward to Lenge, at the large dam we parked up and began watching a huge flock of Alpine Swifts, 3-5 hundred is a conservation estimate! A Glorious sight.

At the dam a large outcrop of rock climbs some 100 meters high and on it we found Blue Rock Thrush and Black Redstart, several Crag Martins were milling about too. On the water we found 10+ Great Crested Grebes and a couple of dozen Black-headed Gulls. Lots of Eurasian Jackdaws were flying about the dam wall and we also found our first Grey Wagtail and Rock Bunting of the trip. The Bonelli’s Eagles did not show so we gave up and continued our journey south. 

After a lunch stop we drove to Sevilla noting many Red Kites, Griffon Vultures, Common Buzzards and huge flocks of sparrows, finches and starlings along the way. Other birds of note were: Eurasian Hoopoe (3), Iberian Grey Shrike (10+) and a single Sparrowhawk.

We dropped off Mike and Lorna near Antequera, they were meeting up with family and were staying an extra few days. The tour was over for them, but they had seen over 165 species and had really enjoyed the trip.

Bob and myself continued to Malaga where we checked into our hotel near the airport, we ate out in a large plaza nearby and planned one last birding outing in the morning before Bob was due to fly out.
The trip tally now stands at:  172 species with 2 heard but not seen (Tawny Owl and Water Rail).

Sunday, October 20, 2013

SUNDAY 20TH OCTOBER 2013 - 8 DAY TOUR - DAY 7

MONFRAGUE NACIONAL PARQUE

The weather forecast was a vast improvement on yesterday, no rain was the prediction, which in fact was true but they failed to tell us that a thick mist would develop for most of the morning!!

We set out at 8:15am just as it was getting light, the sky was clear and a full moon helped to light our way. After passing through patches of mist on the way to Trujillo we met serious mist as we approached Monfrague. When we drove through the clear patches we could see the Castillo de Monfrague where our first stop was to be. Even as we climb the hill towards the castle, the air was relatively clear, so we stopped to view the cliff face just below the castle. We found Blue Rock Thrush, Black Redstart, a few Griffon Vultures perched on ledges and two Crag Martins that were flying along the cliff face.
Blackcap taken from the bedroom window at the guest house by Bob Longhorn

At the top of the castle grounds we had wonderful intermittent views of the beautiful surrounding countryside and of the Pena Falcon limestone pinnacle where many vultures roosted. We spent a long time searching for White-rumped Swifts which I guess I knew were not going to show in the misty conditions, but as consolation we had great views of numerous Hawfinches, Black Redstarts and a single Red-billed Chough. We also saw Blue Rock Thrush, Song Thrush and Jay and, of course, many Griffon and Black Vultures.
A Hawfinch showing its back and one showing the front below



At the base of Pena Falcon we watched from the roadside car park and enjoyed brighter weather and many more vultures. Lots of Crag Martins circled the high pinnacle and were joined by a couple of Common Swifts, but none of them had a white rump.

A Chough in the mist


A coffee stop in Villa Real produced Red-rumped Swallow and our lunch break at the Malavuelta Mirador produced more Hawfinches and Red Kite.

a view from the castillo into the park during a mist-free period

The most exciting birding was found later at The Portilla del Tietar, which is another limestone pinnacle where many Griffons sat or soared. A few minutes after our arrival a SPANISH IMPERIAL EAGLE alighted on the top of the ridge and sat in full view. Wow, what a regal bird, then after a few minutes a second bird circled high above, with two Common Buzzards and Many Griffon Vultures, fantastic.
A few record shots of the Imperial Eagle - this bird was very distant





After that excitement the next couple of hours seemed an anticlimax, we walked in the Dehesa just west of the pinnacles, we searched from tree to tree for woodland species and found a reasonable selection which excluded our target bird the  Lesser Spotted Woodpecker. We did see: Eurasian Nuthatch, Short-toed Treecreeper, Woodlark, Long-tailed Tit, Azure-winged Magpie, Great Spotted Woodpecker and Blue Tit, Great Tit and Chaffinch.
I couldn't write about our visit to Monfrague without a picture of the star attraction of the park - Griffon Vulture

We drove back through the park stopping a couple of times to search for the elusive White-rumped Swift and Bonelli's Eagle without success. One last stop along the way back was at the bridge over the Rio Almonte where we saw many Crag Martins at close quarters and White Wagtail but not much else.

We arrive back at the guest house at 5:30pm, well pleased with our lovely day at Monfrague Park.

SATURDAY 19TH OCTOBER 2103 - 8 DAY TOUR - DAY 6



BELEN PLAIN – SANTA MARTA – MONROY – EMBALSE TALAVAN – RIO ALMONTE – LLANOS DE CASARES – SANTA MARTA.

A mixed bag concerning the weather today, we awoke to a thunderstorm, followed by light rain and then we had patches of bright sunshine with showers. We now have (7pm) another thunderstorm with heavy rain! Such fun!

After a lovely breakfast we set off for the nearby Belen Plains, it was just light enough to scope the wide grass plains at 8:30am when we arrived there. Lots of small flocks of Corn Buntings littered the grass verges and fences whilst bigger flocks of Lapwings sat out in the fields. Many Crested and Thekla Larks flew up from the track or sat on rocks looking woeful as they all had had a soaking. We found two Little Owls on a dry stone wall and then a third appeared further along the track. A couple of Eurasian Hoopoes provided some photographic opportunities and many Meadow Pipits put in an appearance. 

Our best sighting was of 5 Little Bustards, they were distance but were still special for us, a couple of Red Kites and a Common Kestrel were all we saw of raptors until we found a single Griffon Vulture sitting in the middle of a stubble field.

After stopping off in Central Trujillo to buy our picnic lunch we set off for the plains around Santa Marta, our main target species being sandgrouse. It took a while but we found a mixed flock of Black-bellied and Pin-tailed Sandgrouse, they were distant but recognisable. Two Great Bustards flew by as were we watching the sandgrouse. 

After driving through Santa Marta and then to Monroy (where we stopped for a quick coffee) we headed for the Reservoir  (Embalse) at Talavan. Just before we reached the reservoir we stopped to scope a large bird of prey sitting on a pylon, it was in fact a Golden Eagle, fantastic. 
 
3 Views of Golden Eagle



At the reservoir we found several Common Snipe, Meadow Pipits, a Dartford Warbler, Blackcap and another Golden Eagle! Huge flocks of Spanish Sparrows were dashing about and further along the water we saw two Great White Egrets, Grey Heron, Eurasian Teal, Northern Shoveler, Mallard and Gadwall. The sky cleared and the sun came out whilst we ate our lunch, mnay Griffon Vultures took to the air and circled on the thermals.

Our next venue was the bridge over the River Almonte near Casares, we drove down into the valley on a dirt track and parked below the bridge. As we got out of the van we saw several Black Vultures drifting right over us, fabtastic views and a first for the gang. Then, after a short search, we found two male Black Wheatears, a Black Redstart, a European Robin and above us a flock of Crag Martins were joined by a couple of Red-rumped Swallows and 5 House Martins. On the way back up the track a Blue Rock Thrush flew across the track in front of us so we all piled out of the van to photograph this blue beauty.

Black Wheatear

Our journey back to the guest house was interrupted many times with stops to photograph birds, a flock of over 500 Calandra Larks was an impressive sight, also Many Iberian Grey Shrikes sat out in the open, we also found our first Whinchat of the trip and lots of Northern Wheatears sat on the fence-lines. Red-legged Partridges sat out on rocks and Eurasian Hoopoes posed on gate posts for us. 

We crossed the Rio Almonte once again near Santa Marta where we found a Green Sandpiper, Cirl Bunting, Sardinian Warbler and a Eurasian Sparrowhawk.
Red-legged Partridge


Other stops were to watch Ravens, a female Hen Harrier and more Red Kites. When we got to the guest house we realised that we had avoided torrential rain, power cuts and more thunderstorms, how lucky we had been all day!!

Saturday, October 19, 2013

FRIDAY 18TH OCTOBER 2013 - 8 DAY TOUR - DAY 5

TRANSFER DAY

COTO DONANA TO EXTREMADURA

VEGAS ALTAS - EMBALSE SIERRA BRAVA - CAMPO LUGAR - ZORITA PLAINS - SANTA CLEMENTE TRACKS

Despite traveling for 300km today we amassed a surprising list of species. We left El Rocio at 7:30am it was pitch black and very misty, in fact the mist didn't lift until we were well north of Sevilla. The going was tough at first with heavy traffic through Sevilla but as it got light the mist lifted and the traffic eased right off.

We stopped half-way for breakfast and coffee, it was warm enough to sit outside and as we did so we saw Red Kites and Crag Martins. For the rest of the journey we sat back and enjoyed the scenery and added many Common Buzzards to our day list as well as Cattle Egret, White Stork, Griffon Vulture, Marsh Harrier and Azure-winged Magpie.
The gang of three - next to a cork oak tree that has just be de-barked

We passed the famous town of Merida before turning towards Cuidad Real and after stopping to buy picnic lunches we turned towards Trujillo. Our first birding stop was at Vegas Altas right in the middle of the rice growing area. We sat in warm sunshine to eat our picnic and at the same time we watched: Eurasian Hoopoe, White Stork, hundreds of Spanish Sparrow, Common Kingfisher, Common Waxbill and a Cetti's Warbler called constantly.

In the rice fields adjacent to the village of Madragalejo (I bet you can't say that correctly) we spent a nice hour or so watching a lot of exotic escapes: namely Red Avadavat, Common Waxbill and African Silverbill. There were lots of small flocks of these colourful little finches, especially the beautiful Avadavat.We also found Northern Lapwing, White Stork, Zitting Cisticola, Cetti's Warbler and Spanish Sparrows.
White Stork in the stubble fields near Vegas Altas


A second stop in the rice field area we stood on a bridge over a small river where we found lots more Common Waxbills and Avadavats as well as Common Kingfisher, Blackcap, Long-tailed Tit and another Cetti's Warbler.

Red Avadavat - male

Next we visited the dam at Sierra Brava and as we stood on top of the dam we had great views of a RED Kite, the dam wall also held Black Redstart and Rock Sparrow. The water was quite empty of birdlife except for the farthest bank!! In the far distance we could see hundreds of Mallard, Northern Shoveler and small numbers of Great Crested Grebes.

For the last hour or so we search the open filed around Campo Lugar for bustards and sandgrouse. We

were in luck as first, we found a group of 5 Little Bustards, then later we stopped along side a ploughed field and found sandgrouse. In fact, it was Mike, who had just woken up from a slumber, who found them. As he adjusted his eyes to the light he looked out of the van window and shouted "stop, I just seen some partridge type things". These things turned out to be a flock of 18 Pin-tailed Sandgrouse, they flew off as we got too close. Then a few minutes later a group of 12 Black-bellied Sandgrouse landed in the same field a few hundred meters away.
Azure-winged magpie


After watching the grouse we pulled away and headed towards Zorita we only traveled a couple hundred meters when we stopped to look at 3 Great Bustards, what a great find, we had now seen all four main target species of the plains before we even got to our destination!

An hour later we had driven the rest of the way to our guest house, settled in and we were out for a walk along a local track. The bird life was quiet but we did find a Firecrest (it was Mike again), also Blackap, Sardinian Warbler and quite a few Azure-winged Magpies.

After alovely dinner we ventured out in search of owls, at least 3 Little Owls called but there was no sign of the Long-eared Owls that we had hoped for.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

THURSDAY 17TH OCTOBER 2013 - 8 DAY TOUR - DAY 4

LAGUNAS DE PRIMERA DE LOS PALOS - MARISMAS DE O'DIEL, HUELVA - LAGUNA EL PORTIL - LA ROMPIDO HEATH AND RIO PIEDRAS

We set off once again in the dark at 7:30am carrying our breakfast with us, picnic style. After traveling down to the coast at Matalascanas we turned towards Huelva and after another 1/2 an hour we arrived on the outskirts of this industrial coastal town. It was still quite dark so we sat and ate our breakfast, the morning sunrise was a beauty to behold, such a deep crimson red which faded to many shades of pink as it got lighter.
Laguna de los Palos first thing this morning
 The laguna Primera de los Palos lies alongside a huge oil and gas refinery a bit like the beauty and the beast. It was quite quiet, not many birds were present as the banks and islands were totally overgrown. We saw Northern Shoveler, lots of Gadwall, Teal and Mallard. Then we noticed a few terns fishing over the water, they turned out to be Caspian Terns, there were 5 of them, fantastic. The other new sighting for some of us was a Purple Swamphen it fed on the far bank along with Common Coot, Moorhen as a Common Kingfisher flew by.

The drive through the port of Huelva and round to the Marismas del O'Diel was uneventful but as soon as we arrived at the Laguna Calatilla we found a good selection of species. The water was extremely low so not many birds were present. But we find: Common Snipe, Black-tailed Godwit and many of the duck species listed above. A few Greater Flamingos fed in the water and Little Grebes fed nearby. An usual sighting gave us some excitement as Mike pointed out an oddly coloured starling in the distance. It most certainly looked like a Rosy Starling but on closer inspection it was a leucistic bird, what a shame!

the dodgy looking Starling


Across the road we scanned over the salt pans but most birds were very distant, however, we did find both Slender-billed and Audouin's Gulls as well as  our first Shelduck of the trip. We also found Redshank, Black-winged Stilt, Common Ringed Plover and lots more Greater Flamingos.

Our next stop was at bridge which spanned a feeder river, the tide was extremely low so a lot of mud was exposed. On the muddy banks we found: Whimbrel, Eurasian Curlew, Grey Plover, Greenshank, Common Sandpiper, Dunlin and Ruddy Turnstone. In the distance we saw Common Buzzard and Western Marsh Harrier.

Black-tailed Godwit


Over the next two hours we drove some 20 kilometers down towards the tip of this huge nature reserve, the salt marsh narrowed to a few meters as we approached the final few kilometers, it was very much like Spurn as this spit of land jutted out into the Atlantic Ocean. We found lots of species and in addition to those mentioned above we found Bar-tailed Godwit, Red Knot, Oystercatcher, Caspian Tern, Northern Wheatear, Common Whitethroat, Zitting Cisticola, Crested Lark and White Stork.

It was on the way back that we found the most wanted Stone Curlew, a flock of some 15 birds was seen on a bank. We also found Little Stint to add to our wader list.

El Portil  was our next destination and it proved very productive which was not quite unexpected. The water level was still quite high and lots of birds were feeding in or near the water. We added a few species to our daily tally: Black-necked Grebe, Little Grebe, Red-crested and Common Pochard as well as Green Sandpiper and Eurasian Wigeon, But the best was a group of marsh terns which was feeding over the water, We identified 4 Black Terns and they were joined by a White-winged Black Tern, quite a find in Spain and it was well appreciated by the group.
Black-necked Grebe at Laguna El Portil


The heath and marsh was the last venue of our day, but before we ventured into the heath we sat and ate our late lunch. A few Stonechats, Sardinian Warblers and the odd sighting of the Dartford Warbler preceded our best bird of the day.....the Bluethroat. We had several sightings but one particular male sat out for us and gave a superb showing.
Audouin's Gull

Our journey back was punctuated with a couple of stops, one for coffee and one for a quick look at the laguna de los Palos. We thought that more may have arrived but apart from gulls nothing new had arrived, so we set off back to the hotel.

Our day's birding ended at 6pm and also signalled the ending of our visit to Coto Donana, tomorrow we will be setting off to Extremadura for the next 3 nights.

We leave Donana with 141 species on our list with about 40 more to see, watch this space!

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

WEDNESDAY 16TH OCTOBER 2013 - 8 DAY TOUR - DAY 3

COREDOR DE VERDE - LAGUNA CEMA - DEHESA DE ABAJO - ISLA MAYOR RICE FIELDS - NORTHERN MARSHES - JOSE VALVERDE VISITOR'S CENTRE

What a great day, perfect weather, wall to wall sunshine and a good collection of bird species for the trip list. We logged just over 90 species with some special birds on the list.

We set off at 7:30am in pitch darkness, we carried our breakfast with us! The long journey to the Northern Marshes was via Villamonrique some 30km away. We stopped at a road junction to look and listen for owls. First the 'ki-wik' call of the female Tawny Owl was heard then the 'too-woo' of the male quickly followed. But we never saw either despite both the owls being in a small copse of trees.

We drove onto the coredor de Valverde just as it was getting light and our first bird of the day was Cattle Egret, we saw several flying over. We then saw many Hoopoes, one of a group of 3 sat on a pylon to watch the beautiful sunrise.
guess what this is?

Then we had a magical half an hour watching several Black-winged Kites, they perched or hovered or glided across the open woodland in front of us, what a little beauty that bird really is. In the meantime we found another 10+ Hoopoes (7 in one flock), Common Buzzard, Southern Grey Shrike, several Blackcaps, Cetti's Warbler and hundreds of Greeenfinch, Goldfinch , Corn Bunting and Cattle Egrets.

At Laguna Cema there were huge amounts of wildfowl on the water, we found some really exquisite looking Red-crested Pochard, but also Common Pochard, Eurasian Teal. Northern Shoveler, Common Coot, Gadwall, Mallard and Moorhen.

We then drove south along the coredor stopping to watch Zitting Cisticola, Spanish, Tree and Rock Sparrows. Also Meadow Pipit, Crested Lark, Common Kestrel, Marsh harrier and Common Buzzard. As we left the coredor to enter the rice fields we found some 100 White Storks with many Cattle & Little Egrets and good numbers of Grey Herons.

Dehesa  de Abajo, a huge shallow lake,  was brimming with birds, there must have been 5 thousand birds (conservative estimate) with a huge flock of Greater Flamingos (2000+). Avocets numbered in their hundreds as did Black-winged Stilts, Mallard and Shoveler. There was also over 50 Northern Pintail, Gadwall, Common Pochard and Common Coot. Two very special species were also found: Red-knobbed Coot (1) and Marbled Duck (5).
Dehesa de Abajo


Other Waders present included: Ruff, Black-tailed Godwit, Green Sandpiper, Common Snipe and Common Ringed Plover. A few flocks of Jackdaws flew over as did a number of Marsh Harriers.

We drove a little further into the rice field to a venta for a quick coffee-stop and whilst drinking our warm beverage we found 5 Black Storks, fantastic! Then we drove back along to Dehesa de Abajo before turning into the rice fields. It was there that we found several Yellow-crowned Bishops and a dozen or so of CommonWaxbills, both of these species are escapes, now breeding, both are African species now well established in Spain, but enjoyable to watch all the same.

AS we drove deeper into the National Park of Coto Donana we saw more Black Storks and our first Great White Egrets of the trip. Eurasian Spoonbill, Glossy Ibis and Lesser Kestrel were added to the trip list before we stopped for lunch at 'Casa Bombas' pumping station some 15km into the northern marshes. During lunch we found Black-winged Kite (2), Lesser Kestrel (13), Black Stork (18), Great White Egret (9) and many Cattle and Little Egrets.

For the next hour we drove towards the Valverde Visitor's Centre but we made many stops along the way, one stretch of pylons held several different species: Lesser Kestrel, Black-winged Kite, Raven and a Peregrine Falcon! We also saw several Northern Wheatears and a flock of Skylarks along the way.

Northern Wheatear - male

In the spring there are large expanses of open water near the Valverde centre but now these were reduced to small pools which held some birds but not a lot. We scanned a number of these pools and found Greater Flamingos, Eurasian Spoonbills, Little, Cattle and Great White Egrets, Black-winged Stilts, Avocets. Ruff, Ringed Plover and Black-tailed Godwits.

As we traveled along the main track from the Valverde Centre towards El Rocio we found hundreds of Northern Wheatears, Yellow Wagtails, Stonechats and just 1 Whinchat. We also watched a couple of Short-toed Eagles, several Griffon Vultures and lots more Lesser Kestrels. On the way back to the Valverde Centre we saw a Little Owl and our first Red Kite.

The pools around the Centre were devoid of life, just a few Mallards, what a contrast to the spring when thousands of breeding herons and egrets are present. After a quick coffee we set off for the return journey, we took a different route back, which was just as good as the outward route. At one stage we had 6 Red Kites just above us with several Lesser Kestrels in tow and the number of Marsh Harrier sightings was incredible. We made one long stop to watch for Imperial Eagle but none showed up, just more harriers, Ravens and Kites.
Northern Wheatear - female


Near Casa Bombas pumping station a small outflow held 9 Black Storks, 5 Great White Egrets, 6 Eurasian Spoonbills, Glossy Ibis and innumerable Little Egrets, it was quite a spectacle as they all took to the air when we drove passed.


We arrived back in El Rocio at 6pm, a little tired after our long excursion into the marshes, we had amassed a list of over 90 species which was very good for this time of the year!



Tuesday, October 15, 2013

TUESDAY 15TH OCTOBER 2013 - 8 DAY TOUR - DAY 2

EL ROCIO - MATALASCANAS CLIFFS  - ACEBUCHE VISITOR'S CENTRE - EL PALICIO DE ACEBRON WOODLAND WALK - LA ROCINA NATURE TRAILS - EL ROCIO

We had a packed itinerary today with perfect weather once again, although it did get a little too hot during the afternoon.

We met at 8am outside the hotel, it was still dark but we could see the sunrise in the distance as a Tawny Owl called its' way onto the day list. We walked the short distance to the edge of the Laguna Marisma de Madre where we could hear Greylag Geese and Greater Flamingos. The light improved and we scoped several species out in the muddy pools of the marsh, the laguna itself did not hold much water.
the gang in the woods at Palicio de Acebron
We added Eurasian Wigeon and Eurasian Teal to our list as well as seeing Ruff, Black-tailed Godwit, lots of Common Snipe and a good number of the species seen yesterday.  From El Rocio we drove to the coast at Matalascanas where we walked along the cliffs looking out to sea hoping for some seabird passage. However it was very quiet, we did see the odd Northern Gannet, Sandwich Tern and the usual gulls but nothing to write home about. On the cliffs we found a mixed flock of Thekla and Crested Larks, Sardinian Warblers, Stonechats and Goldfinches. A peregrine Falcon flew over us as we left to return to the car.

Acebuche centre was also very quiet it took a while to find a bird other than House Sparrows and Azure-winged Magpies. We did find Tree Sparrow and both Pied and Spotted Flycatcher but after spending an hour or so visiting two or three of the hides we found nothing great for the list. On the way out of the park we stopped to watch a small number of Crested Tits just as a Dartford Warbler hopped about in the scrub.
what is left of the laguna at Acebuche after a dry summer

The Palicio de Acebron was built in the sixties and is surrounded by a unique woodland which sits on a large peat-bog. We found a few new species but again it was very quiet. Garden Warbler was new for our list and a Short-toed Treecreeper appeared as we were leaving.

The hides at La Rocina overlooked dry open scrub where water usually stands so not much was seen there. Both Pied and Spotted Flycatchers were in good numbers and we did see a Booted Eagle as we drove there.
Azure-winged Magpie

 Our second visit to the laguna at El Rocio was more rewarding with much better late afternoon light, we approached it after stopping a couple of times around the outskirts of El Rocio town. During our stops we found White & Yellow Wagtails, Meadow Pipits, Cattle Egrets and more Crested Larks.

On and around the muddy pools of the main laguna we found lots of Ruff, Ringed Plover, Common Snipe, Northern lapwing, a few Spotted Redshank, Common Redshank and many Mallard, Shoveler and Greylag Geese. In the distance we found a two Ravens, they sat on the shore near some Red Deer, also Common Buzzard and two Griffon vultures.
Tree Sparrow

We called it a day around 5:30pm, we had seen just over 60 species, the list was almost identical to that of last year's tally when we visited the same sites (check out the archive blogs).


Monday, October 14, 2013

MONDAY 14TH OCTOBER 2013 - 8 DAY TOUR - DAY 1

MALAGA AIRPORT - GUADALMAR  -  LAGUNA DULCE - EL ROCIO

Today we began the 8 day autumn tour of Coto Donana and Extremadura. I collected Mike and Lorna and Bob from Malaga Airport in preparation for the trip.

Mike and Lorna arrived a couple of hours earlier than Bob so we went off for a short birding excursion in the meantime. Our destination was the beach area around Guadalmar near the golf course, we parked up adjacent to the beach and stood on a bank of sand which overlooked a stream, the golf course, the beach and a large expanse of sandy scrub land. We quickly found Crested Lark, Zitting Cisticola, Stonechat, Northern Wheatear, Goldfinch, Greenfinch and Serin. Along the stream we saw Little Egret, many Monk Parakeets flew over and a couple of Common Kestrels hovered nearby.

Lorna, Mike and Bob at El Rocio this afternoon


We drove a little further upstream and saw a Eurasian Hoopoe and a couple of European Robins. After stopping off to buy lunch we returned to the airport and collected Bob, we then set off for Sevilla with the intention of stopping for lunch at Laguna Dulce.

Our picnic lunch was enjoyed in lovely sunshine at laguna Dulce, we had seen a couple of Griffon Vultures along the way but not much else. The laguna was covered in birds, it has been a superb venue this autumn. Highlights include: 5 Ferruginous Ducks, over 100 White-headed Ducks, 3 Marsh Harriers, a Hobby and good numbers of Shoveler (300+), Gadwall, Common Coot (1000+), Red-crested Pochard (5), Common Pochard (20+), Purple Swamphen (1) and all 3 Gebe species- (Little, Great-crested and Black-necked).

A good find was Tufted Duck (2 males) but we also saw Greater Flamingo, Northern Lapwing, Ringed Plover, Black-winged Stilt and we heard Cetti's Warbler.

Spotless Starling with a deformed (elongated) upper mandible


We then drove to Coto Donana without stopping except for coffee near Sevilla and also to watch a few birds near El Rocio. An obliging Eurasian Hoopoe sat on a post and beckoned for us to photograph it, which Bob duly did, whilst several Azure-winged Magpies darted across the road. We also stopped to photograph the magpies without success, they are very flighty.

At El Roico we made a short stop at the huge laguna which was virtually dry. We added Greylag Goose, Black-tailed Godwit, Yellow Wagtail and Common Buzzard to our trip list before driving into town and to our hotel.

We ate a lovely meal out on the terrace of the hotel and our bird log total was 55 species, not too bad for our first day which included a lot of travel.


Sunday, October 13, 2013

SUNDAY 13TH OCTOBER 2013 - DAY TOUR


SERRANIA DE RONDA

SIERRA DE LAS NIEVES AND ENCINAS BORRACHAS TRACK

This was my last day tour of the year here in sunny Spain, boo, hoo!! I drove to Ronda to collect Pat and Joseph who are on holiday from Texas, USA.

The weather was superb, clear sky, no wind but it was a little chilly, 6C to start with!!! Oops!

We met on the famous bridge just as a flock of Red-billed Chough flew over, nice start. We then drove 10km down towards the coast to visit the beautiful region of the Sierra de las Nieves. We birded from the car park at the entrance to the park where it was a little quiet at first but birds began to appear as we walked in the open parkland. Both Black Redstart and Common Redstart showed really well and my American friends enjoyed the likes of Eurasian Jay, Blue Tit, Great Tit, European Robin and Common Chaffinch.

A view within the Sierra de las Nieves park


As we drove deeper into the park we stopped to look for Black Wheatear but all we got was fleeting views of Rock Bunting and a couple of Stonechats. More Stonechats appeared on the open heath where we also enjoyed good views of 3-4 Dartford Warblers, a number of Goldfinches and a couple of Cirl Buntings.

Another stop produced more Rock Buntings, 4 Hawfinches and a small party of Common Crossbills, this latter species was especially pleasing for Pat and Joseph as they had searched for Crossbills over a number of years during visits to Scotland without success.
record shot of Common Crossbill


In a mature pine wood we stopped to watch another collections of species: Crested Tit, Firecrest, Eurasian Nuthatch, Great Spotted Woodpecker (drumming), Grey Wagtail near a stream and more Common Crossbills coming down to drink.

After we ate our picnic lunch we drove back out towards the exit, we stopped at a couple of places to look for the elsusive Black Wheatear, again without luck. We find a lot more Jays, Wood Pigeon and a string of Griffon Vultures.

Just outside the park we decided to take a coffee at a roadside cafe, we sat outside in the warm sunshine. The view was stunning as we looked over the park and the distant mountains. We counted over 30 Griffon Vultures circling over the hills and to our great surprise they were joined by, first a Golden Eagle, 1cy, and then by an adult Bonelli's Eagle. Wow what luck and both gave great views in superb light. A Common Kestrel continuously mobbed the Bonelli's Eagle which was quite entertaining.  A few Serins and a couple of Rock Buntings added to our 'coffee watch'.

the Encinas Borrachas track


For the rest of the afternoon we walked along the Encinas Borrachas track found on the Algeciras road west of Ronda. The light was simply magical, we could see a flea on a Wren's back from half-a-mile away!

Thekla Lark
 High up on the mountain ridge we scoped Black Wheatear and Blue Rock Thrush and in the hawthorn scrub we found a couple of Southern Grey Shrikes and a Song Thrush. A Little Owl sat out on a ledge and a couple of Northern Wheatear flitted from bush to rock. Many Stonechats sat atop the bushes and several Thekla Larks fed in the grasses. After watching more Goldfinches and a couple of Linnets we then enjoyed a Woodlark as it sang in flight above us. For the next hour we had a great time watching Sardinian and Dartford Warblers, both gave excellent views as fed in mulberry bushes, the berries being both prolific and ripe at this time.
two record shots of Dartford Warbler


Our last species of the day was a flock of Corn Buntings sitting on telephone wires, how nice to see my favourite bird at last!

Our total of 45 birds wasn't great but the quality of the list was excellent.

Watch out for my 8 day tour of Coto Donana and Extremadura which begins tomorrow.