Day 1 – Friday 28thMay – Alcalá de los Gazules – Algaida Road – ‘Bonanza’ pools – Bonanza-Los Portugueses track – Trebujena Marshes – Lagunas de Lebrija – Embalse “CA 4102” – Alcalá
Our flight the previous day was delayed which meant we arrived in Alcalá about 1:00 AM – hence no birds were noted on the 27th. Despite turning in later than hoped, we were up early the next day to enjoy the view from the house with the usual handful of Lesser Kestrels in view. Few birds were seen en route until we turned off the A471 (Sanlúcar-Trebujena road) heading for Algaida – along this stretch of road we had both Red and Black Kites, a Buzzard and large flock of Collared Pratincoles. (Not spectacular finds, but it sure beats negotiating the back streets of Sanlúcar!). Reaching Algaida, we turned back towards Sanlúcar and then, shortly after the salinas turning, turned inland to look at ‘Bonanza Pools’. Here, as expected, we enjoyed close views of White-headed Duck (2 adults, a black-headed immature and a brood of 4 ducklings) plus a Little Bittern and 3 Purple Gallinule.
Driving back towards Algaida, took a left turn into Bonanza salinas. Here we had a fleeting view of a Common Waxbill before reaching the main salt pans. These proved a disappointment as the high water levels provided little or no feeding habitat for migrating waders – Avocet, Black-winged Stilt & Kentish Plovers alone being in evidence. However, good views were obtained of Flamingos, 15 Slender-billed Gulls and many Little Terns. With the recently installed barrier up to the pump house comprehensively destroyed, we were able to drive up the track to view more of the saltpans, but with no greater success. A brief view over the river produced numerous sightings of Black Kite, a few Booted Eagle and fewer Short-toed Eagle plus our first Gull-billed Tern. A passing Swedish birder/photographer then informed us of two ‘dark’ egrets along the track besides the Guadalquivir. Before we set off along the track, however, we had an all-dark egret was flying over the Guadalquivir towards the Coto. Given the distance no more could be seen on it other than it was a very dark slate coloured egret – presumably one of the several Reef Heron x Little Egrets currently in the area.
After a false start, and with some trepidation on the JC’s part, we set off along the rough track along the river from Bonanza to Los Portugueses Salinas. In the tamarisks here we had our first Bee-eaters and Spectacled Warbler. On (or above) the salinas along this track we had two Black Storks, 7 Glossy Ibis, more raptors, many Calandra, Short-toed and Lesser Short-toed Larks. Despite close inspection of the nearer birds none of the ‘Crested Larks’ proved to be the hoped for Thekla (although they are said to be present here) At the southern rim of Los Portugueses Salinas – in an area that is often wet – we finally caught up with a few waders; 3 Lapwing, 15 Grey Plover, a single Greenshank and 4 Dunlin – a distinctly meagre total for this area. Given dry conditions, most of this route along the river between Bonanza and Los Portugueses is easily drivable, but some spots need careful negotiation and a slip in concentration could have unfortunate consequences - a 4x4 would make it so much easier!
Taking the road north-east along the river, we had views over the reedy pools to the left and the Trebujena Marshes to the right. The reed fringed pools on the quickly gave up our main quarry here - Marbled Teal despite the first bird’s efforts to play hide-and-seek in a small clump of cover. A little further along a ditch harboured was a second adult Marbled Teal with a small flotilla of ducklings. However, with the marshes largely dry and little activity along the river, we added few birds on this stretch.
With complaints from the back seat about a distinct lack of something called ‘food’ finding somewhere for a coffee and tapas was the next priority. However, ignoring all local options, we drove over (c40 minutes) to an excellent little venta at the junction of the NIV and the SE5207 Espera road. After a couple of strong coffees and a snack of yummy garlicky chicharrón, even JC had to admit that this was just the fillip we needed.
Thus fortified, we headed off towards the Lagunas de Lebrija complex. Stopping on the SE-6201 at Laguna de Pilon – thanks to the heavy winter rain now a proper laguna rather than the shallow weed choked depression that it has been for several years – we found our first Little Ringed Plover. A little further on we turned right up a track to Laguna de la Galiana and Laguna de Cigarrera, both of which had grown enormously in size since last May. Here we had Black-necked Grebe, Purple Heron, Glossy Ibis, White-headed Duck, Whiskered Tern , Great Reed Warblers, Melodious Warbler and our main ‘target’ here, Western Olivaceous Warbler. These we quickly located singing in the tamarisks, but getting a really good view of them was another matter! The absence of Spanish Sparrow (numerous and easy to see in 2009) was probably due to the tamarisk margins they favour being extensively flooded this year. Despite seemingly ideal conditions (or at least conditions similar to Lagunas de Espera where they are certainly found), we failed to find Crested Coot here. (Unlike Lagunas de Espera, this site is near a good road and the best lagunas can be viewed from a car – the best one at Espera requires a 40 minute round trip on foot)
With time running out we decided to leave Espera for another day and head back to Alcalá via the CA-4102 (Jerez-Gibalbin road). On this road, about 4-5 km NE of Jerez Circuit, a couple of large agricultural reservoirs had attracted a large flock of swifts and hirundines which, in turn, tempted us to stop briefly to view them. Here we quickly notched up Red-rumped Swallow, Pallid Swift (a tricky ID in the prevailing conditions) and had a very distant view of Black-shouldered Kite. Back in the village a half dozen or so Lesser Kestrels over the house brought the day to a close.