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Red-throated Bee-eater

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

Sunday, April 9, 2017

SPAIN, ANDALUCIA 7-DAY TOUR (based in Gaucin) DAY 5

MARCHENILLA TRACK – PALMONES SALT MARSH – LAGUNA TORREGUADIARO – SAN ENRIQUE WOODS

WEATHER: Broken sunshine, strong easterly wind, top temp. 19C

The cold easterly wind continued today albeit a little weaker than yesterday, it still had a negative effect on our birding enjoyment and results!

We left Gaucin and drove down the Algeciras Road to San Pablo where we turned off towards San Martin, our first stop was some 4km along this road where a colony of European Bee-eaters has been established in a pig-sty. What a contrast, beauty and the beast springs to mind! We saw plenty of pigs and many Bee-eaters. Twenty eight colourful Bee-eaters sat along a wire fence in the morning sun another 80+ birds flew out of a nearby Eucalyptus trees. Noise colour, movement – a lovely experience to start our birding day.


European Bee-eaters on the fence of the pig compound

Further along the road we turned off to visit the river Guadiaro, we hoped for a sighting of Western Olivaceous Warbler, we heard Cetti’s Warbler, Common Nightingale, Blackcap and Greenfinches but I don’t think the Olivaceous Warblers are back on their breeding grounds just yet.

Along the Marchenilla Track we saw very little migration movement except for groups of Bee-eaters. The wind kept a lot of the smaller birds down in the scrub and bushes. We saw lots of Corn Buntings, Greenfinches, Sardinian Warblers, Goldfinches, Serins, Linnets, House Sparrows and Griffon Vultures.


Corn Bunting - don't I just love this species?

I watched a Melodious Warbler when I returned to fetch the car whilst Mike found an Egyptian Vulture during the same time period. A couple of Tawny Pipits, several Crested Larks, Stonechats, a Black-eared Wheatear, Woodchat Shrike, Common Buzzard, Common Kestrel and a White Stork made up the rest of our sightings.

At Palmones Salt Marsh we were again disappointed, I have never seen so few species there! Singles of Grey Plover, Greenshank and Kentish Plover was the grand total of waders, a Sandwich Tern, 3 Eurasian Spoonbills, 4 Grey Herons and a dozen or so of Yellow Wagtails (Iberiae) was the sum total of our findings.

The Laguna at Torreguadiaro was equally as bad, 6 Common Moorhens and 2 Little Grebes was a poor tally, so we went round to the woods at San Enrique where we ate our lunch. A short walk produced our best bird of the day when we tracked down a Wryneck. This bird eventually showed very well and apart from Blue Tit, Serin and Blackcap we saw very little else.


Wryneck


From the track leading to the woods we watched Bee-eaters, Spotless Starlings and a Booted Eagle drifted over us. From there we drove through San Martin heading towards San Pablo making one stop to watch a Little Owl.


allegedly the most colourful bird in the world with 16 different colours - European Bee-eater

After a short second visit to the Marchenilla Track to try to relocate the Melodious Warbler, without success we drove back towards Gaucin via a series of dusty dirt tracks. We had hoped for Turtle Dove sightings or even Golden Oriole, perhaps a Cuckoo, but alas none of the above appeared.

We finished early, a short day, however the next two days are going to be much longer so a rest now will help!

Saturday, April 8, 2017

SPAIN, ANDALUCIA 7-DAY TOUR (based in Gaucin) DAY 4

ENCINAS BORRACHAS TRACK NEAR RONDA – SIERRA DE LAS NIEVES NATURAL PARQUE – RONDA

WEATHER: sunshine all day with a gusting, bitter cold wind for most of the day. Top temp 19C felt like 5C at times.

We arrived at the Encinas Borrachas track not long after 8:30am, a cold gusting wind greeted us as we left the car. Not surprisingly very birds were on show, we saw distant Northern and Black-eared Wheatears, also Linnets and Goldfinches, a single Rock Bunting sat in a bush, but nothing else showed.


The start of the Encinas Borrachas (drunken oaks) track - you can see how exposed we were to the cold wind

Our walk across the heathland produced nothing at all but we found shelter from the wind over the brow of a hill where a few birds began to appear. We heard an Iberian Shrike singing, it flew off just as we located it, a distant Common Cuckoo also called.

The wind reduced somewhat with longer, calm gaps between the gusts, during these calm periods it was quite warm and birding became enjoyable once again. We tracked down an Orphean Warbler as it sang in the cork oaks, the same happened with Subalpine Warbler.


Mike - full of enthusiasm, waiting for the Orphean Warbler to show

Mike got onto two Ring Ouzels, I saw them in flight and agreed with their identification. Distant Black Wheatears sat on the mountain tops whilst several Griffon Vultures drifted over.

Our return walk was much more rewarding, mainly due to the reduced wind gusts. We managed to find Spectacled Warblers, Dartford Warblers (one male without a tail) and a couple of Thekla Larks. Mike found a Woodchat Shrike as we neared the car.


Dartford Warbler, a tail-less male!

Our next port of call was a roadside restaurant where we enjoyed a nice coffee break, from there we drove into the Sierra de las Nieves natural parque. Again it was very quiet with very few migrant species to see. We found Cirl Bunting, Blue Tit, Chaffinch, Subalpine Warbler and a Mistle Thrush. It was colder there and still windy, we drove deeper into the reserve but never ventured out of the car very much. One stop produced Wren and Coal Tit but not much more.

At 2pm we drove into the centre of Ronda and became ‘tourists’ for a couple of hours. During our walk around the famous Ronda Bridge and gorge we logged Red-billed Chough, Blue Rock Thrush, Crag Martin, a few Serins and a thousand people of innumerable different nationalities.


view from the famous Ronda Bridge

Our return journey to Gaucin included a second stop at the Encinas Borrachas track hoping for a better view of Iberian Shrike, but we never found one. A couple of Short-toed Eagles were noted on the way back to Gaucin.

Today we logged only 10 new species, but I am sure that the weather played a big part in our misfortune.

Friday, April 7, 2017

SPAIN,ANDALUCIA 7-DAY TOUR (based in Gaucin) DAY 3

WEATHER: Sunshine all day, very cold easterly wind, top temp 19C

It was bitter cold in the sweet chestnut wood even though we were sheltered from the brisk wind. Surprisingly there was quite a lot of bird activity in the bare branches of these ancient deciduous trees. We quickly found Blue Tit, Crested Tit, Eurasian Nuthatch, Great Spotted Woodpecker and Common Chaffinch.


Eurasian Nuthatch in the morning sunlight

We had to walk a few hundred meters into the cork oak woods in order to find our main target bird, it took quite a while before we heard one. The swirling, windy conditions made it difficult to locate our first Iberian Chiffchaff of the trip but when we did it showed very well. We also tried to track down a singing Coal Tit but failed to find it in the tall pines nearby.


Iberian Ciffchaff taken by Mike Ream

On the return walk we found two Short-toed Treecreepers, another Great-spotted Woodpecker and a very obliging Firecrest. A nice sighting, albeit brief, was made of a Hobby, it dashed along above the trees and quickly out of sight.

By the time we got down to the Rio Guadiaro at Estacion Cortes the sun was higher and we warmed up, the wind was greatly reduced in this sheltered valley. We spent an hour or so walking beside the river noting: Blackcap, Cetti’s Warbler, Common Nightingale, Greenfinch, Cirl Bunting, Woodchat Shrike, Stonechat, Green Sandpiper, Little Ringed Plover, Great Cormorant and White Wagtail.


the Rio Guadiaro near Estacion de Cortes

Generally it was quiet, lots of House Martins, a few Red-rumped and Barn Swallows flew all around us and higher up we counted over 40 Griffon Vultures, two Short-toed Eagles and we heard distant Bee-eaters.

After a coffee stop in Cortes de la Frontera we made it to Montejaque and the Llanos de Libar by lunchtime, we ate our picnic in the sunshine sitting on some rocks. Spanish Festoon, Cleopatra and Clouded Yellow Butterflies were noted during lunch.


Spanish Festoon butterfly

We walked up the track towards the Llanos de Libar scanning the mountain tops and steep rock faces looking for anything that moved. We found Rock Bunting, Blue Rock Thrush, Black Wheatear, Red-billed Chough, Crag Martins and dozens of Griffon Vultures. Lower down we were kept busy watching Sardinian Warbler, Stonechats, Eurasian Linnets, Goldfinches and more Black Wheatears. A male Ring Ouzel was a bonus find but unfortunately Mike didn’t get onto it before it disappeared behind some bushes.


the track leading up to the Llanos de Libar

Driving further up the valley we entered the wide open valley (Llanos) which has some rocky scree and some cultivated fields. We added Mistle Thrush, Rock Sparrow (Petronia) but we failed to find Black-eared Wheatear. During the return journey we stopped to watch a superb male Black Redstart and we continued our search for other wheatears. Other butterfly sightings included; Large Tortoiseshell, Small Heath and a guy we met had just being tracking a Chapman's Green Hairstreak, a new species for me if only I had seen it!


Eurasian Linnet

A short roadside stop near Montejaque was made to look for more Orchids, we found three species.


Naked Man Orchid

Yellow Orchid

Cueva de Gato (Cat’s Cave) near Benaojan is the best and most reliable place to find Alpine Swifts, we saw four as we emerged from the car in the car park. Our walk to the near-deserted beauty spot at the cave’s entrance was punctuated with stops to watch the swifts and martins. At the blue-pool below the cave we watched Grey Wagtail, Blackcap and not much else. Mike pointed out two large raptors circling behind us, wow! They were Bonelli’s Eagles, a great find, I’d been searching for those beauties all day.


the Blue-pool below the entrance to the Cueva de Gato

We walked along the river hoping for sightings of Dipper without success, we did hear a distant Golden Oriole caliing but we dipped on the Dipper. It was now 5:15pm so we decided to call it a day, our drive back was speedy along empty roads, we arrived back in Gaucin at 6pm.
Dinner was taken at 7:30pm followed by our bird log, we had now recorded 100 species (including 3 heard not seen), not a bad tally but certainly lacking in migrant species.

Thursday, April 6, 2017

SPAIN, ANDALUCIA 7-DAY TOUR (based in Gaucin) DAY 2

WEATHER: another day of sunshine but a brisk easterly wind kept the temp quite cool. Top temp 21C

At the Rio Genal things were much quieter than I expected, but the coast-road repair work was noisy and water extraction using large tractors towing water tanks was on-going near the bridge, maybe too much disruption?

Our walk lasted an hour during time which we heard only 4 species singing; Common Nightingale, Blackcap, Serin and Cetti’s Warbler. Actual sightings were minimal, Blue Tit, Serin, Long-tailed Tit, Grey Heron and above us we saw only Booted Eagle and Griffon Vulture, not a single Wagtail,  no sight nor sound of Golden Oriole or Hawfinch.


looking up to Gaucin's Castle (Castillo de Aguila) from the Rio Genal

By the time we reached the Guadiaro Valley track leading to Secadero the wind had picked up, it was quite blustery at times. We saw several parties of European Bee-eater, also Crested Larks, Blackcap, Sardinian Warbler, Little-ringed Plover, Great Cormorant and not much else. The sky began to fill with raptors but only with Booted Eagles and Griffon Vultures.


European Bee-eaters

Further down the track we had one inspirational sighting in the form of a GREAT SPOTTED CUCKOO, this bird was perched on the roadside fence but unfortunately it saw us before we ‘spotted’ it, the bird was off over the hill before we could say “camera”. Nevertheless it was a great sighting and my first of this species for this valley.


Little Ringed Plover

We continued, encouraged by our find, but things didn’t get much better! We added Corn Bunting, Common Stonechat, Greenfinches, Goldfinches and another stop at the river produced a Black Kite sighting and a Common Kingfisher.

After a coffee stop in Secadero we drove to San Enrique Woods where we sat in the car and ate our picnic lunch next to the sewerage works, how nice!

A quick scan of a ploughed field produced both House and Tree Sparrows, Spotless Starlings, Bee-eaters and Goldfinches. Walking in the windy woods we added Bonelli’s Warbler, Great-spotted Woodpecker and lots of Serins.


Great Spotted Woodpecker

Next we drove to the ‘umbrella’ pine-woods near San Roque, we first looked for Orchids along the main track, we found both Sombre and Sawfly Orchids. We also saw Small Copper, Spanish Festoon, Speckled Wood and Cleopatra Butterflies.


Sombre Orchid

Back to birding, we spent an hour or so searching the pine trees and areas of cork oak for new species. Our efforts were rewarded with good sightings of all four target species: Firecrest, Crested Tit, Short-toed Treecreeper and Bonelli’s Warbler. Other species seen were Eurasian Jay, Chaffinch, Blue Tit, Blackbird and Blackcap.


Eurasian Jay

From the elevated roadside just north of San Roque we viewed many White Storks on their nests, it is incubation time right now in the 70+ nests in this area.



We also stopped near a railway bridge to look at a Lesser Kestrel colony, my fears of last year were abated somewhat with the encouraging sight of new ‘kestrel’ nesting boxes attached to the bridge walls. I feared last year that repair work on the bridge walls would discourage these delightful falcons from further breeding, we saw six individuals, one of which came down to a nesting hole with food, smashing!

Our last stop was just outside of Jimena de la Frontera where we walked along a dirt track looking for Tawny Pipits. We found Stonechats, Serins, Goldfinches and our first Short-toed Eagle but no pipits.


Common Stonechat

This concluded our birding, it was a little disappointing, the lack of raptor passage and of migrants in general is a concern, perhaps the east wind is having a greater effect than I thought it would!

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

SPAIN, ANDALUCIA 7-DAY TOUR (Based in Gaucin) DAY 1

WEATHER:  wall to wall sunshine, light breeze, top temp 23C

It was great to be back birding in Southern Spain for another exciting season. The weather was just beautiful and the birding as good as ever.

Today I collected Mike from Malaga Airport he is staying with us for a week, he arrived on time but his luggage was delayed some time. Once in the car we drove straight round to the local nature reserve at Guadalmar, called Desembocadura de Guadalhorce.


just one of several lagoons at the Guadalhorce Reserve

We had a great two hours walking along the tracks and visiting the hides that overlook a number of lagoons, we recorded over 50 species and the first lagoon produced our top-two sightings of the day. First we located a number of White-headed Ducks swimming around with Common and Red-crested Pochard, Little Grebes, Moorhens and Eurasian Coots. But then in the reeds we found a RED-KNOBBED COOT which is a mega find for this reserve and a species I have never seen there before.


White-headed Duck

The next lagoon had a number of Black-winged Stilts, Common Redshank and not much else, so we moved onto the third lagoon which is far more open and has more exposed muddy banks. A good number of waders were feeding there with several species present. We listed; Kentish Plover, Dunlin, Sanderling, Curlew Sandpiper, Common Redshank, Common Greenshank, Green Sandpiper, Black-winged Stilt and Pied Avocet.


record shots of the Red-knobbed Coot, you can just see the Red-Knobs and the blue bill-tip


On our return walk we watched a group of 12 European Bee-eaters, Zitting Cisticola, Cetti’s Warbler, Pallid Swifts, Greenfinches and a few groups of Monk Parakeets.

We visited two more hides but it was the Laguna Grande that produced the most new species. From a raised hide we watched; Greater Flamingo, Eurasian Spoonbill, Black-necked Grebes, Black-headed Gull, Great Cormorant, Little Ringed Plover, Grey Heron and lots more Stilts.

During our walked back we bumped into a Eurasian Hoopoe, some Serins, Sardinian Warbler, a distant Booted Eagle, Common Kestrel and Red-rumped Swallows.


taken through heat-haze - Eurasian Hoopoe

After stopping to buy lunch we set off at 3pm for Gaucin, my home village in Andalucia. We stopped a couple of times near Casares, but first we watched Griffon Vultures, Black Kites, Booted Eagle and dozens of Yellow-legged Gulls over a rubbish-tip near Estapona.

In Casares we had closer views of Griffon Vultures and we watched a Blue Rock Thrush. At Sierra Crestellina we added Common (Northern) Raven, Common Stonechat and Woodchat Shrike to our list.

Several nice butterflies were on the wing during this beautiful day; we saw Swallowtail, Scarce Swallowtail, Cleopatra, Spanish Festoon, Monarch, Painted Lady and Large White.


Swallowtail Butterfly

We eventually arrived at Gaucin around 5:30pm where we enjoyed a cold beer and a delicious home-cooked dinner, provided by my lovely wife Dawn.
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