Sunday, 19 April 2009

April Bird Trip - Day 10 - 11th April

Day 10 – Saturday 11th April: Robin’s Last Day
- My final day - and still there were birds to see. Only a single Short-toed Eagle was on view from the Tarifa raptor migration centre, but behind the beach at Playa de los Lances (the other end from where we were on Tuesday), where people were everywhere, even flying kites on the reserve itself - we found a couple of Tawny Pipits walking and chasing on the sandy grassland, and there was also briefly a pair of Kentish Plovers. This was a very fitting end to an amazing week in which I saw no fewer than 43 new birds out of a total of 166 and 5 new butterflies out of a total of 19 - thanks to John's knowledge, skill, driving ability and good cooking!

JC - I’m sure that all of my Kent birding friends would heartily contest every one of Robin’s final points! It was certainly a great trip. Not only did Robin and I see some good birds and rather fewer butterflies, we even managed to slot in a little tourism with visits to Arcos, Baelo Claudia and the obligatory sherry & tapas in Jerez. Robin missed one final, if somewhat dubious tick, a trio of Monk Parakeets that barrelled ove La Linea shortly after dropping him at Gibraltar airport.

Although Liz and I stayed on until the 17th, poor weather and the need to be a tolerably attentive husband meant that few further birds were added to the list. However, this did give me the chance to try to bump up the terrace list which I managed to do when a immature Golden Eagle came over; my 18th BoP from the terrace and a rather unexpected one as they breed no nearer than Grazalema. Despite the weather I did manage to add a few more birds to the trip tally - Great-spotted Woodpecker, Black Redstart and, serenading us just before we left the house, a magnificent male Golden Oriole making the grand total of 171 species for the trip.

April Bird Trip - Day 9 - 10th April

Day 9 – Friday 10th April: A Rose by any other name!
- En route to the Guadalquivir again we saw a Stone Curlew in flight. The usual astonishing variety of birds was seen at the Trebujena marshes - 2 Night Herons, c12 Greater Flamingoes, c12 Collared Pratincoles, 4 Kentish Plovers, 2+ Curlew Sandpipers, a Slender-billed Gull, 1 Short-toed and c4 lovely Calandra Larks. Raptors included Short-toed Eagle and a male and a female Montagu's Harrier. There were a lot of Booted Eagles doing a lot of noisy displaying. A Quail was heard but, as usual, invisible, and we also saw our first Turtle Doves for the week.

A bird perched on a wire above the track turned out to be a Rose-coloured Starling. Unusually, John was more excited about it than me- not just another exciting Spanish bird, but a Spanish rarity! Another group of birders turned up, Spanish as it happened, but they were relative beginners and didn't realise the significance of the sighting any more than I did. John, however, was anxious to share this bird with local birders so waved down another passing car containing a Spanish birder. This turned out to be Javier Hildalgo, one of the directors of the SEO (the Spanish RSPB) - no less – and a prominent member of the local “sherry-aristocracy”; naturally he spoke perfect English! Although initially sceptical, soon saw the bird himself! It was a first summer bird still with some juvenile brown feathers. Senor Hidalgo then told us about some Marbled Teal he had seen nearby - we found them lurking in clumps of rushes at the edge of a large lagoon, two neat little biscuit-coloured ducks. In an elated - not to say triumphant - mood we had a look in the Algaida pinewoods. Here a Hoopoe was "singing" and there were several Short-toed Treecreepers. The whole area rang with the calls of Booted Eagles and we realised that one pair were apparently prospecting a nest in a pine right by the track where many people were going to be walking and picnicking (Spaniards seem to love picnics even more than the British) over the holiday weekend. Perhaps Booteds are at a very high population at present - we counted about 10 birds in the area.

Later, visiting the beautiful garden of the 11th Century Moorish Alcala at Jerez de la Frontera, we saw a large and elegant Scarce Swallowtail, the most spectacular butterfly of the week in a fantastic setting - together with a more mundane Wall Brown. En route to meet Liz Cantelo at Gibraltar we stopped off at Las Palmones - here there were just 6 Avocets and a few Sandwich Terns.

JC - Robin’s first comment on seeing the Rose-coloured Starling was something along the lines of ‘Number 41” and it was only my excited babble that made him realise that this species is not usual hereabouts. Although Senor Hildalgo thought that it was the first for the Coto, it seems to have been the second record – not bad all the same! Notice again the leisurely style of the trip; Robin not only got to see a genuine medieaval mosque in Jerez castle - remember we met studying History at university - but also enjoyed a well earnt glass of sherry & tapas at the iconic Gallo Azul bar in the centre of town!

April Birding Trip - Day 8 - 9th April

Day 8 – Thursday 9th April: R & R
- A sea watch at Punta Secreta produced a couple of Great Skuas but little else, so we returned to Los Alcornocales for the rest of the day. At Embalse de Celerin there were six Little Ringed Plovers and a Common Sandpiper. A walk in the beautifully wooded Val de Infierno - which reminded us both of Welsh oakwoods - resulted in hearing and seeing some 10 Iberian Chiffchaffs, an exquisite Firecrest, Willow Warbler and 2 Cirl Buntings. There were lots of the nominate form of the Speckled Wood, another Spanish Festoon and 3 Green Hairstreaks.

Moving on to our main site for the day, a return visit to Los Molinos, we did much better, with both raptors and butterflies aplenty. The former included two more Bonelli's Eagles, the only ones for Los Alcornocales this week, unfortunately rather distant views, and another Egyptian Vulture. There was obviously a bit of a raptor passage with 5 Booted Eagles and 2 Short-toed Eagles accompanying some 40 Griffons. Other birds included no less than 5 exquisite Black-eared Wheatears, 4 more Iberian Chiffchaffs, 2 Cirl Buntings, a Bonelli's Warbler and the usual Serins. It was the best day for butterfly variety, with 11 species including c8 Spanish Festoons, a Moroccan Orange tip, 2 Cleopatras - my first for the week, they resemble Brimstone, but with an orange flush on the forewing - 2 Provencal Hairstreaks, 4 or so more Green Hairstreaks, a "helice" Clouded Yellow, 2 "cramera" Brown Argus, 3 Common Blues and a Small Copper. John also identified Loose-flowered and Tongue Orchids.
By stark contrast to the idyllic - and fragrant - Molinos valley, in the evening we visited Los Barrios rubbish tip for a possible Eagle Owl - all we saw was a Griffon, c40 White Storks and the amazing sight of c500 Black Kites!

JC - After the excessive amount of driving the previous day we both needed a quieter day – it’s just a pity that Cory’s Shearwater picked this week to be elusive! It was the first spring trip I’ve had out to Spain where I’ve not seen them. A shame too, that my hunch that the rubbish tip might hold Eagle Owl proved unfounded! It was incredibly smelly, but at least the sunset was terrific!

April Birding Trip - Day 7 - 8th April

Day 7 – Wednesday 8th April: A Lesser twitch
RG - Back to the Guadalquivir - this time at Brazo d'Este where we found a Savi's Warbler singing from the top of a reed - noticeably darker brown than Reed Warbler. Also a single Squacco Heron flushed from the reeds then landed in the open giving excellent views - but the only one of the week. Other birds here included c150 Collared Pratincoles and c30 Whiskered Terns, both species feeding over the open lagoons, a Gull-billed Tern, c8 Purple Herons and c4 Night Herons, a Spoonbill, c5 Purple Gallinules, 3 Glossy Ibises, 4 Marsh Harriers, 2 superb as always male Montagu's Harriers, 6 Kentish Plovers and more Bee-eaters, and our only flock of Spanish Sparrows seen in the week - about 30 dustbathing.

From here we drove the hundred kilometres or so to Laguna Fuente de Piedra which is an unmissable place - a huge, but shallow, lake covered with about 8,000 Flamingos! Six of them were Lesser Flamingos, rare vagrants from Africa, with all-pink plumage and black bills, and only about three-quarters the size of the Greater Flamingo. They were John's sole tick of the week, and he picked them out almost immediately, despite the fact that the mainly British birders present had not made the attempt. The number of waders was staggering - of course many Black-winged Stilts and Avocets, but also c70 Little Stints, and we noticed Kentish Plovers, summer-plumaged Curlew Sandpiper and Spotted Redshank and a Ruff, and doubtless many more if we had had time to look! There was also a flock of about 150 Gull-billed Terns sat on a gravel spit, and a distant calling Hoopoe. I saw more Lesser Emperors here.

We ended the day searching for bustards and sandgrouse in the Marchena / La Lantaguera area - to no effect - apart, that is, from seeing 3 more male Montagu's Harriers, c300 Collared Pratincoles, about 3 Calandra Larks and, inevitably, more Bee-eaters.

JC - Fortunately, when Robin opened the map to navigate from Brazo de Este to the Lantejuela area (where we planned to look for bustards), I realised that it was only another 100km (on a fast motorway) to Fuente de Piedra. I’d been there once before – staying nearby in Campillos expressly to see this site – only to find it bone dry and birdless. This time it was a stunning oasis of bird activity – a really superb area even without Lesser Flamingos! Although the Lessers were initially very distant, I was surprised how easy it was to pick them out; not only were they distinctly smaller (and shorter) but also they sported really bright red plumage. At closer range the black bills and faces, pierced by a gleaming reddish eye, gave them a slightly sinister air. Robin, determined to locate them for himself, spent 20 minutes searching before anyone realised that his view was onscured by a tamarisk! Unfortunately this detour meant we gave the bustards less time than we'd hoped - next time perhaps. The only downside of this great day was the discovery, once back home, that a Wilson's Phalarope (which a Spanish birder we'd met told us about) was relocated, having gone 'missing for several days, at Brazo de Este after we'd left. Pity, but cutting our visit to the area short did ensure good views of the Lesser Flamingos!

April Birding trip - Day 5 & 6 - 6th & 7th April

Day 5 - Monday 6th April: A day in Grazalema
RG - A day in the mountains of the spectacular Sierra Grazelema. The first stop at Villa Lengua Rosario near Ubrique, beneath high cliffs, produced two Blue Rock Thrushes and my first Black Wheatears, one of which was seen quite near. A distant Egyptian Vulture was with some soaring Griffons. Moving on towards Grazelema we stopped at a place where John had seen Southern Grey Shrike in February- and within very few minutes one was seen on wires. It soon vanished then reappeared a bit later on the other side of the road showing well. Underparts much pinker than the pure white of the Great Grey, and white supercilia met above the bill. It was also being watched by some friendly but not very experienced French birders - one of them seemed to think the Shrike was a Blackcap! The real mountains were next reached, the magnificent Llanos de Libar above Montejaque. Here we stopped in a dramatic valley and immediately had stunning close-up views of a Rock Bunting, and less close ones of a flock of Rock Sparrows - there must have been about 25 of them all told. A bit higher up an Orphean Warbler was singing a beautiful mellifluous song. A walk in a high level meadow for butterflies only produced a "helice" Clouded Yellow, but here we had our only Subalpine Warblers of the week, the attractive male giving very good views, while a Firecrest also appeared briefly. A Short-toed Treecreeper called from a stunted pine. Other birds up in this tremendous valley were c5 Bonelli's Warblers, c30 Alpine Swifts flying very high, a Black-eared Wheatear, about 4 Black Wheatears and a singing Cirl Bunting, as well as another close but brief view of the attractive Rock Bunting. Of the raptors we had 2 Short-toed Eagles and a Booted Eagle, and, at a place John had seen it before, a superb Bonelli's Eagle. It was first seen perched high on top of a crag, not far from a similarly perched Short-toed, then it flew much closer to us - a really charismatic bird. It soared up into the sunshine, another bird joining it before both flew off. The bird of a splendid day.

Returning home we stopped first at Bornos Reservoir where there were a Purple Heron and 2 Spoonbills before pushing on to the Lagunas de Espera. At Espera lagoons (which reminded me of the Cotswold Water Park) there was an "observatorio blanco" which was really cool to sit in, but from which no birds could actually be seen. (I didn’t realise that the Cotswold Water Park had so many exotic species in addition to Red-crested Pochard! - JC) On the last pool we found a couple of Crested Coots, a declining species locally, together with a male White-headed Duck, 6 Black-necked Grebes, a Marsh Harrier and a Purple Gallinule. Also here was a Mongoose, running across the road in front of us as we approached the reserve. Insects included a Spanish Festoon, another "helice" Clouded Yellow, and a surprising number of dragonflies - Lesser Emperors, considerably smaller than Emperors, and Scarlet Dragonflies (both rarities in Britain.)

Finally, at Arcos de la Frontera, there were more Pallid Swifts than we had seen so far, about 100 or so, together with c30 Lesser Kestrels, and, on the way home, another Booted Eagle.

JC - I thought the inner tourist in Robin would enjoy this spectacular town – personally I enjoyed the superb croissants we bought here even more.

Day 6 - Tuesday 7th April: A Bridge too far
En route to Cape Trafalgar a Barn Owl flew over. At the cape sea-watching was not productive, the only birds of real interest being two Slender-billed Gulls, the rest were fairly normal "British" species. Broomrapes were everywhere in the dunes. Large display boards described the battle fought here two hundred years ago. The estuary at Barbate was also a disappointment, but in the woods here, planted to stabilise the largest dune in Europe, we had intimate views of a Short-toed Treecreeper, and there were some interesting orchids - Sombre Bee Orchid and Mirror Orchid. At the observatory at Playa de las Lances things began to look up on the birding front - a fairly distant Audouin's Gull was put up by some walkers before we could get a good view, but then, within a few minutes, first a group of Kentish Plovers appeared on grass behind the hide, then we saw a Collared Pratincole with them, a brilliant close view of it on the ground, then when it flew off calling, another Audouin's Gull flew right over the hide, near enough for me to see its blood-red "lipstick" bill. A distant Black-winged Stilt and about 70 Sanderlings in front of the hide completed the list.
At the second visit to La Janda ( a different area of this vast drained marshland) our luck was still in. We had intimate views of Bee-eaters ( the first actually seen perched, despite the fact we had seen migrants virtually everywhere we went), and there were 3+ Spoonbills, c4 Black-winged Stilts, c7 Purple Gallinules and a Gull-billed Tern. Raptors were the main interest - a female Hen Harrier, 3 Marsh Harriers, 2 Short-toed and a Booted Eagle and a magnificent juvenile Spanish Imperial Eagle, distant but distinctive, the largest eagle of the week! More raptors were seen near Embalse de Barbate - a Booted and c4 Short-toed Eagles, with about 10 Bee-eaters.

JC - In the absence of the restraining hand of my “other half” I’d decided to attempt the perilous Benalup-Fascinas track in the hope, a vain one as it turned out, of getting Little Bustard. In parts it was certainly more trough than track and required very careful driving. Unfortunately after 9-10 km of corrugated motoring, we came to a concrete bridge the other side of which was a small 3-D display evidently commemorating trench warfare; I decided that, having got SIE ‘in the bag’ to go no further!

April Birding Trip - Day 4 - 5th April

Day 4 - Sunday 5th April: Birds are not the only tick …
Robin, to my pretended disgust, had this strange notion that some flying things that were not birds could be ticked. Apparently, these are called b-u-t-t-e-r-f-l-i-e-s. So today was mainly dedicated to pottering around locally for these wee beasties. It probably cost us a few good birds, but I think Robin needed the rest from all that hectic real ticking!

RG - On the way to the Los Molinos valley, a short distance from Alcala, we saw a gathering of up to 30 or more Griffon Vultures. They seemed to be interested in a spot at the edge of a field, though there appeared to be no carcase there, it seemed more like a meeting of some sort was going on! A trek up the Los Molinos valley produced a mass of colourful flowers and my first Iberian Chiffchaff singing, the song began like a Chiffchaff and ended like a Pied Flycatcher. To my eyes it looked more like Willow than Chiff, with more of a neck, and apparently yellower underparts, particularly undertail coverts, than on adult Chiffchaff. Also Firecrest, Bonelli's Warbler and Woodlark were singing, and we saw a Short-toed Eagle and plenty of vultures including an Egyptian. On the way back from Molinos there was a pair of Black-eared Wheatears, and, over Alcala, a Booted Eagle. Butterflies were the best so far - ten species of which three were new to me - 3 or 4 Spanish Festoons (seen properly and even photographed), 3 Moroccan Orange Tips (including a female, which looks similar to male Orange Tip), Provencal Hairstreak (looking like a cross between Small Copper and Green Hairstreak) and, though not a new species, the "helice" form of the Clouded Yellow. There was also the bright "cramera" race of Brown Argus, Common Blue, Wall, and lots of the very different nominate race of the Speckled Wood, looking very like Wall.
At Embalse de Barbate a Black Stork flew over the hills and away over the reservoir. Also here were Short-toed Eagles, Booted Eagles and Griffon Vultures, and the Wood Sandpiper was seen again. There was also a Melodious Warbler here, the only one of the week. Later at the spectacular peak of El Picacho an Egyptian Vulture was with Griffons at the summit, and another Booted Eagle flew over.

Actually, it was very good to have an 'easy day' without too much hectic driving and the Molinos valley is a perfect place to 'unwind' with superb views, good birds (it has a large vulture roost) and all this just 5 minutes drive from Alcala. We later discovered an additional bonus - the shop at the camp ground sold bread and other supplies when everywhere else was firmly shut!

April Birding Trip - Day 3 - 4th April

Day 3 - Saturday 4th April: A Kite and Bull Story!

RG - The wonderful quality continued when, in thick morning mist, we stopped at a bridge near Benalup a few miles from Alcala, and I saw my first male Spanish Sparrow - quite a stunner for a sparrow. (Despite stopping here specifically for this species – which seems to like eucalyptus groves hereabouts - I again missed them at this site. It was only after searching for several more minutes and seeing only House Sparrow that Robin realised how lucky he’d been! - JC).

Driving along a minor road/track at Cantaranas/ Las Naveros we had three more Red-rumped Swallows, but initially we didn't find anything new, apart from hearing a Hoopoe. (You weren’t complaining at the time Robin! – JC). However, once we got out of the car and explored a side track we saw a distant silhouetted raptor perched on a fence post which John identified as a Black-shouldered Kite. We walked down a track to get nearer, but the bird seemed to have dropped out of sight. Perhaps it was disturbed by another hunting male Montagu's Harrier. (The sight of some distant cattle persuaded me, if not Robin, that it was time to beat a retreat – a decision amply vindicated given what soon unfolded! Being used to Wiltshire’s finest Aberdeen Angus, Robin was keen to proceed further down this track, but I insisted that we turn back. Robin clearly thought I was a bit of a wimp, but those distant bulls had a somewhat sinister bulk and mien. Shortly afterwards a horseman passed by, but failed to notice us. Then a clanking of bells announced the arrival of several cows and a second horseman carrying a long pole. He spoke to me in clipped and urgent Spanish amongst which, thankfully, I managed to pick out the words "toros bravos" - fighting bulls! Obviously they'd brough the 'ladies' along to tempt the bulls in the right direction - unfortunately this was in our direction! It was pretty clear he wanted us out of the way and fast! We walked back to the car, but paused to get a drink from the boot at which point the second horseman reappeared urgentlt gesticulating & shouting at us to get in the car - my Spanish appears to improve in such circumstances! This we did and shortly thereafter a posse of large and irritable looking fighting bulls thundered along the track we’d just vacated! A close call! Thank goodness that a certain habitue of Grove Ferry wasn't there - these weren't dairy cows, 007, but real Spanish fighting bulls! - JC)

Later, nearly at the end of the Cantaranas road, John found another Black-shouldered Kite perched on a wire. (Actually, I saw it fly up to the wire, but didn’t let on what it was at first since I knew Robin much preferred to ID birds himself rather than be told. He was very impressed that I’d identified this distant dot until I admitted I’d seen it fly in! – JC). Soon it flew up and started hunting, hovering, then gliding with wings held in a V more pronounced than any harrier, then off over the hill: a truly stunning bird. A stop on the Conil road was notable in that it produced my first new butterflies - there hadn't been many up to now apart from a few Large Whites, and abundant Painted Ladies and Clouded Yellows everywhere - these were 3 Green-striped Whites, like Bath Whites on the upperwing but with a green-striped underwing. Here there was also a pair of Stone Curlews.

The Roman ruins at Baelo Claudia near Bolonia were an unforgettable experience, the Temple, the Theatre, the dramatic seaside setting with the largest moving sand dune in Spain - and the birds! Three stunning Black-eared Wheatears included a very tame pair - the female was gathering nesting material around the theatre - and there were two Thekla Larks which we examined closely - identification from Crested was clinched by the convex, rather than straight, lower mandible. (Both species seem to be present here – although previously I’ve only seen Crested at this site – JC) Next, driving up to the spectacular Sierra de la Plata, we stopped at a beetling crag where appropriately we had Crag Martins, a superb singing Blue Rock Thrush and two splendid Egyptian Vultures. The thrush was perched heroically right at the top of the cliff, and the vultures perched briefly then flapped away, their black and white plumage more stunningly immaculate than I expected. A bit further on - actually near the top of the hill, John found my first, much hoped for, Spanish Festoon butterfly, but I didn't get much of a view, just good enough to identify it. Also here was an Iberian Green Woodpecker.
What a host! Not content with showing Robin the birdlife of the area I also knew that, as a fellow History graduate, he’d enjoy some decent classical ruins – it’s purely fortuitous that they’re in a good birding location! Not only that but, even though my pretense of knowing nothing about butterflies isn't too far from the truth, I also managed to find Robin a butterfly tick too - JC

At the La Janda marshes raptors were back in view with a superb Short-toed Eagle, a female Montagu's Harrier and another Marsh Harrier. On the marshy ditch there were about 5 Purple Gallinules. On the way back to Alcala a small pond near Embalse de Barbate produced a Wood Sandpiper, and another Iberian Green Woodpecker flew in front of the car. All was by no means over for the day however - near the embalse (reservoir) there was another superb hunting Black-shouldered Kite, the first John had seen here, and the third for the day!

Since colonising Cadiz province in the mid/late 1990s (surprisingly late given the proximity of Africa), Black-shouldered Kite has rapidly become relatively common in the area. I see them on pretty much every visit these days - even when I'm not looking seriously and almost every time I see them at another 'new' site. With up to 40 birds wintering on La Janda, Cadiz province is now probably the best place to see the species in Europe; in my experience it's much easier here than the much touted Extremadura! In fact I've now seen them in about a dozen different places in the area, but, annoyingly, not yet from our terrace (although I have seen them just outside the village).

April Birding Trip - Day 2 - 3rd April

Day 2 - Friday 3rd April: The Tickfest Begins!
RG - A totally mind-blowing day for me producing the amazing total of seventeen new birds! First to the mouth of the River Guadalquivir where we found a really obliging couple of Little Swifts, flying over the beach and repeatedly just above our heads! With paddle-shaped wings, square tails, fluttering flight and Wilson's Petrel-like white rumps, they were absolutely distinctive. Next to Bonanza beside the Guadalquivir where John knew of little ponds (these are what I call ‘Bonanza Pools’ – JC)
set among market gardens. These held White-headed Ducks, an ear-shattering singing Great Reed Warbler right by the road and two Purple Gallinules. The latter are extraordinary creatures with huge pink bills and legs and the habit of erupting out of the reeds only to drop down again very soon. Also here was a female Little Bittern - the only one of the week - and the sound (but not sight) of the first migrating Bee-eaters.

At the nearby salt-pans the sheer quantity and quality of the water birds was staggering to someone not used to birding abroad - lots of Greater Flamingos (I had to pinch myself to realise that they were wild) and equally lots of Black-winged Stilts on unbelievably long legs plus about a hundred immaculate Slender-billed Gulls (they really should be called “long-billed”), c25 Glossy Ibises, Spoonbill, Avocets, c20 Kentish Plovers, c10 Gull-billed Terns, a Little Tern, 3 Little Stints, c5 Curlew Sandpipers, Greenshank, and the first sight of migrating Bee-eaters - the first of many. The best bird of all was probably a very confiding Short-toed Eagle perched on a pylon, which flew ahead of us and gave some stunning close-up views, a terrific bird. (This species proved to have the knack of appearing at very close range only when my camera card was full or the camera itself wasn’t to hand! - JC)

Also here were Sardinian and Fan-tailed Warblers ("zitting cisticolas"), probably South Spain's commonest warblers - the former seems to be everywhere. At the salt marshes of La Portugueses we were treated to no fewer than four species of Lark - the common one being Crested, accompanied by, in descending order of frequency, Short-toed Larks beside the tracks, wonderful Calandra Larks, large larks with long wings, black below like Green Sandpipers', singing beautifully over the salt marshes, and a few grey, rather sparrow-like Lesser Short-toed Larks, which we didn't hear singing. (Thekla Lark is supposed to be present in the area, but I’ve never personally had them here – JC). When we visited the Trebujena marshes the Short-toed Larks became much commoner, flying around in flocks in front of the car. The raptors included 3 Marsh Harriers, both species of Kite, and Booted Eagles, the pale phase birds stunning with black and white wings, the dark phase more difficult to identify, sometimes slightly resembling the common Black Kites. At the Trebujena Marshes there were also 3 Great White Egrets, a male Hen Harrier and Stone Curlews.
At the Laguna Tarelo heronry on the edge of Algaida Pine Woods there were c15 Night Herons, a wonderful pair of Spoonbills, White-headed Duck and Purple Gallinule among the many Cattle and Little Egrets, but no sign of Squacco Heron. Serin were singing among the pines. (The White-headed Ducks were missing here a week later when I tried to show them to a Belgian birder – which suggests that ‘Bonanza Pools’ are important site – and apparently an unprotected one – for this species – JC)

Algaida pinewoods we did not find Azure-winged Magpie, but I had my first Griffon Vultures, superb great birds soaring over the trees, also more Booted Eagles and a Swallowtail butterfly - the only one of the week. (Azure –winged Magpies now seem very hard to find hear with most visitors failing to find them – in many visits over the last few years I’ve only seen them twice! JC)
At another of John's sites is a small marsh near Mesas de Asta which is set among rolling farmland. Here there was a wonderful male Montagu's Harrier was floating nearby - just fantastic. A Whiskered Tern appeared for a brief while over the lake, which had plentiful stilts and Avocets, also a flock of Ruffs and Black-tailed Godwits. (Later in the spring there are numerous Gull-billed Terns here – a somewhat incongruous sight hawking over the surrounding wheat fields! - JC).
The final venue of a mega-day's birding was Laguna de Medina, where John decided it was time I had another tick, so on cue he found a distant Collared Pratincole (which I didn't see), but soon thereafter found three more flying over the path. As we walked back to the car we found about 500 more (!), hawking for insects over the lake in the failing light: they resemble marsh terns but with a hint of plover about them too. Also here I heard, but didn't see, my first Savi's Warbler, and there were more stilts. New for the day were two or three Black-necked Grebes, Nightingales seemed to sing from every bush, and a couple of Great Reed Warblers "crunched" away from the crunched" away from the reeds around the lake. What a day!

It was a great day, made all the better for Robin's company. I should add that whilst Robin may have a 'Ford Model T' life list (i.e. well below 300 in the UK), he's actually more of a Ford Mustang birder. His recall of bird songs and calls is superb and far better than mine. He also insisted that, whilst I was 'allowed' to alert him if I found something good, he'd much prefer to do the actual identification for himself. This did cause me a few anxious moments, but was a terrific way for Robin to learn the birds. He always got the ID right, even on relatively poor views, usually hesitantly commenting something like "It looks like a ******!" and my usual reply "There's a reason for that ..." quickly became the catch phrase of the week!

April Birding Trip - Day 1 - 2nd April

Although Robin Griffiths and I had been good friends at University and had always kept in contact, we hadn’t actually seen one another for the best part of 25 years. Over a year ago I’d invited him out to Spain and this April he came. Being a resident, non-twitching patch worker in that ornithological desert otherwise known as ‘Wiltshire’, I knew Robin would have a good time. Even more so since this was his first trip abroad for over 30 years, his first ever ‘full-on’ birding trip to the continent and his first ever trip to Spain. I knew that the lifers would come thick and fast; to find out how thick and fast, read on!

Headings, odd clarifications, amendments and comments aside, this account (in italics) is essentially Robin’s, but I’ve also added some additional, initialled, bracketted and/or un-italicised comments to enlarge upon Robin’s comments.

Day 1 - Thursday 2nd April: Arrival
RG - John and I met at Gatwick and flew to Gibraltar, arriving at 6 PM, where, while we organised a hire car, we noticed the odd swift, and I saw my first lifer - Pallid Swift. En route to John's house at Alcala de Los Gazules we saw three more new birds for me - Spotless Starlings on wires beside the road (very glossy "Brylcreem" starlings), 2 or 3 superb Red rumped Swallows flying around a bridge "with long tails stuck on behind", and, at Alcala itself, Lesser Kestrels hawking for insects at dusk with the epicentre of their activity being - John's house! They were superb, like daintier, more brightly coloured Kestrels, and flew around allowing point-blank views. Other birds noted on route were Cattle Egrets, a Woodchat Shrike and a few White Storks. A Nightingale could be heard singing from John's terrace (actually his flat roof.) All of these birds would be recorded often throughout the week, in some cases many times a day.

This proved to be a gentle start to a first rate week of good quailty birding. Unfortunately, with no 'staff photographer' along, the only photos are my mediocre efforts!
- JC

Day 8 - Back to UK

DAY 8 - Thursday 19th February
Naturally the local Lesser Kestrels serenaded our departure from the village this morning. Since we had get to Gibraltar before 10:00 for our flight we had little time for birding today. A quick investigation of the Valdeinfierno produced Raven, but little else.

Although it was sunny and often pleasantly warm during the day, it was distinctly chilly at night. Despite being pretty much as far south as you can get in Europe, a thick jumper is a must at this time of the year. This sunny weather was fortunate as rain had been forecast before we went and even our day in Grazalema was dry. It was a great trip bettering the total attained in February 2007 by 22 species (135 vs 157 - although we did have two more whole days birding this year). Yet we still managed to miss ten species seen on the earlier trip - some of which we saw several times in 2007 (e.g. Squacco Heron, Peregrine, Long-tailed Tit & Cirl Bunting). This higher figure is also partly due to the better weather, improved local knowledge and the heavy rain earlier in the winter rainfall which provided plenty of good habitats. The latter meant that, for the first time in years, Espera was in excellent condition and not virtually dry so after many attempts I finally got to see a ‘real’ Crested Coot there. It also accounted for the large number of shallow “lagoons” on Trebujena Marshes which made them so good for Glossy Ibis and such like. However, this welcome wetness probably undermined our hopes of seeing any sandgrouse at this site. Had we opted for a earlier start each morning, then a target of c170 would have been quite feasible.

Birding highlights included a superb male white-spotted Bluethroat on Trebujena Marshes, an obliging Alpine Accentor at Llanos de Libar, finally nailing two un-neck collared Crested Coot at Espera and, above all, some superb views of Little Swift at Chipiona (at last!). Also very pleasing was the sense that I’m finally getting to know some of the sites. Finding both an additional route into and around the Trebujena marshes and the ‘settling pans’ near Sanlucar was also a big plus. It was also evident that Great White Egret has increased markedly in recent years (although the extensive flooding may have brought more birds out into the open). Glossy Ibis also seem to be doing very well. On the downside I was surprised to see no Black-shouldered Kite on La Janda although, having seen them elsewhere, we didn’t look very hard.

John Cantelo - February 2009

For photos of the trip see :-