Monday, 21 May 2018

Kos - 8th to 15th May

I returned from Portugal on Saturday 5th May and just had time to unpack and wash my clothes before repacking and departing for the Greek island of Kos the following Tuesday. I've been to a few of the Greek islands before; Crete, Cyprus, Rhodes and Santorini but this would be my first visit to Kos. It had some wetland areas which are missing on Rhodes and Santorini which would hopefully prove to be something of a magnet for migrant birds.
We arrived in the early hours of Wednesday the 9th having lost two hours to the change in time zones. We were staying at the Kosta Palace, overlooking the harbour in Kos town. The first morning we explored some of the vegetated areas in the town. I was surprised to see that almost all the swifts around the hotel area were all Common but I was soon watching Pallids which were nesting in decent numbers around the Police building close to the old castle. Having both species in such close proximity during our stay gave a good opportunity to compare the two species in a range of different light conditions. I have previously produced comparative photos of Pallid and Common Swift so won't repeat them here but one thing that struck me this time was how pale-headed Pallid Swift looks when flying towards you.

Pallid Swift
Having heard, but struggled to see, Western Olivaceous Warbler the previous week in Spain I was keen to renew my acquaintance with its eastern cousin and it wasn't long before I had multiple birds singing, what to my ears at least, sounded like the same song in Kos. 
Eastern Olivaceous Warbler
The upperparts are the colour of milky tea, lacking any of the olive tones of Icterine or Melodious.

One of the birds I was keen to see in Kos was Eleonora's Falcon. As far as I am aware they don't nest on Kos but there is a colony on nearby Nisyros which can be visited by boat but I was hoping for blogging or passage birds around Alikis lake. I wasn't disappointed as I saw birds every day, even over the hotel on several occasions but these birds were high. Better views were of up to 8 or 9 birds feeding on aerial insects just inland of Alikis lake. Most birds were pale morphs but I had decent views of one dark bird.

Eleonora's Falcon - female 2 upper with blue eye ring and cere and male below with yellow
Alikis lake, close to the village of Tigaki was by far and away the best area for numbers of birds.
Alikis Lake
The week before I arrived it had Spur-winged Plover and Marsh Sandpiper but I only saw the commoner waders; Curlew Sandpiper, Little and Temminck's Stint and single Kentish Plover and superb summer plumaged Spotted Redshank. 

Curlew Sandpiper

A track follows the edge of the lake at the south-west giving great opportunities for photography from the car.
Spotted Redshank

Little Stint
Temminck's Stin
The island is small, only 40km end to end so its easy to explore and make multiple visits to the better areas. I made three visits to the mountains around Old Pyli and Zia.
upland area around Old Pyli

This produced a few common woodland species; Coal and Great Tits, Serin and groups of Alpine Swift plus several Eastern Subalpine Warblers and Cretzschmar's Bunting plus a single female Black-eared Wheatear but few raptors. I'd hoped for Bonelli's Eagle and Long-legged Buzzard in the mountains but didn't see either.
Cretzschmar's Bunting - male
Eastern Subalpine Warbler - male
Black-eared Wheatear - female
Back in the lowlands near Tigaki I came across a pair of Roller which were present in the same area for several days. One of the birds spent most of its time sat on an old street light which wasn't the best background for a photo.

 Other birds around the wetland included Squacco and Night Herons, Zitting Cisticola, and around 20 Greater Flamingo plus Yellow-legged Gulls but the only terns I saw were a couple of Sandwich. Ruddy Shelduck were much in evidence at the western end of Alikis lake with about 20 birds present early morning which then moved on to stubble fields to feed. From their behaviour it appeared them at least some were probably breeding there.
Ruddy Shelduck

Towards the end of our week we drove around the coast from Kos town to Tigaki, we saw at least 5 Lesser Kestrel hunting over the fields and a single female Red-footed Falcon.
Red-footed Falcon -female

I visited the Psalidi Wetlands just east of Kos town but apart from a few Wood Sandpiper there were few birds here.
My impression during the week was that the birds didn't change much although Bee-eaters appeared to be moving through.
Aside from the birds we saw Swallowtail and Scarce Swallowtail butterflies and what looked like Small Fiery Copper, Starred Agama, Snake-eyed Skink and Spur-thighed Tortoise
Lesser Fiery Copper
Starred Agama
Spur-thighed Tortoise

Overall I thoroughly enjoyed Kos for a weeks birding with a good variety of habitats and range of species. I'm sure if you were lucky with the weather systems you could see more migrants than I encountered.

Sunday, 6 May 2018

Coto Donana & the Alentejo with Bird Holidays 28th April - 5th May - Part 2 Mertola

Driving from Huelva we followed the coast road in to Portugal, crossing the Rio Guadiana then heading north to Mertola which is also on the Guadiana.

We made  brief stop at a bridge over the river and added Blue Rock Thrush and a small lizard, the Large Psammodromus.
Large Psammodromus
After dropping off our bags at the well placed Hotel Museu we did a short trip around some of the upland meadows of the Alentejo. 
flower fields of the Alentejo

The flowers were spectacular but so were the birds and we soon added Little Bustard and Thekla Larks to our growing list.
Little Bustard
The Little Bustard was inevitably distant but still gave good views through a telescope, especially when it puffed out its throat in display and jumped in the air.

Both Crested Lark and Thekla Larks occur here so their separation is quite a challenge! The Thekla Lark has a shorter, stubbier bill and has darker black markings on its breast but you would need to spend some time here to grasp the subtleties of the two species.
Thekla Lark
Back at the hotel we could now see several occupied Lesser Kestrel nest boxes on the side of buildings below the castle. Something to check out tomorrow!
The following morning we set off towards Castro Verde and had not driven far before a large bird of prey appeared against the hillside; an immature Spanish Imperial Eagle. It was being mobbed by a female Montagu's Harrier but dropped away from us over the top of the hill and was lost to view. A little further on we followed the track at Monte del Aprica where nest boxes have been erected for Roller and Lesser Kestrel. We saw at least three pairs of Roller but stayed in the vehicle as we passed the nest boxes to minimise disturbance of what is becoming an increasingly rare bird in Europe.
As we watched from a safe distance one bird flew in the air and twisted from side to side in a display flight that gives the bird it name.
More Little Bustards and several Great Bustard were seen against the hillside and there strange mating calls carried across the grasslands. A party of around 30 Black-bellied Sandgrouse broke the skyline and circled before dropping out of view. At the visitor centre at Herdade de Vale Goncalinho we saw more Lesser Kestrel in man made nest holes and a single Red Kite. After lunch we drove a little further and a lone bird of prey circling over the hillside turned out to be a migrating Honey Buzzard.
Honey Buzzard
We heard several Wryneck in both Spain and Portugal but finally found a bird sitting in the open on a dead tree and calling repeatedly that everyone managed to see.

In the evening I returned to the Lesser Kestrel nest boxes at Mertola. The birds were out hunting during the day but returned to the nest boxes to roost which gave a good opportunity for some photos.
Lesser Kestrel - adult male
Lesser Kestrel - malereturning to the nest box with a large millipede

Lesser Kestrel - female
It was an early start the following morning, we did a similar route to yesterday but setting out at 06:30. The birds were more active at this time of day and one of the birds we were keen to see rewarded us as first one Great Spotted Cuckoo, followed by a second bird crossed the road and landed together on the hillside.

Great Spotted Cuckoo - a pair
As we drove further on we came across a pale buzzard sat on a low hill. It was clearly a Long-legged Buzzard of the North African race cirtensis the so called Atlas Long-legged Buzzard. They are smaller than the Eastern race I have seen in Turkey and Greece and lack the long, narrower winged appearance of that bird. Confusingly intergrades occur with Common Buzzard, called the Gibraltar Buzzard so its difficult to know if this was a pure Long-legged Buzzard on our views, it was rather tatty in any case.

Long-legged Buzzard
Close by a female Great Bustard popped up by the roadside and had a good look at us before walking off to a safe distance.
Great Bustard - female
A visit to the river at Pulo do Lobo produced Crag Martin sat on its cup shaped nest and both Rock and Cirl Buntings. 

Pulo do Lobo
We also had several Woodlark singing by the entrance gates which circled overhead whilst delivering their lovely song. 
All too soon the day was over bringing our bird filled week to an end but with some fantastic experiences, memories and great company.

Coto Donana & the Alentejo with Bird Holidays 28th April - 5th May - Part 1 El Rocio Area

I went with Bird Holidays for another trip to Spain & Portugal. Flying out to Faro on 28th April we drove to El Rocio arriving late afternoon. We then spent 4 nights at the beautifully located Hotel Toruno which over looks the flooded lake of Charco de la Boca. There has been plenty of rain over the winter so the water level was quite high. Walking the few metres from the hotel to the lake on the first evening Great Reed Warblers were singing in the reeds by the walkway but one of the first birds I saw was a male Little Bittern flying across the top of the reeds. Over the next few days I saw Little Bittern both morning and evening and must have seen at least 3 pairs. The males were calling and doing a slow flapping display flight as well as chasing each other and the females. We all had amazing views.

Littler Bittern - upper male in flight, female and male and lower male
A Ruddy Shelduck with Greylag Geese on the far side of the lake was a surprise but has apparently been present for some time. All the starling are Spotless so identification isn't a problem but in any case in spring they are all in spotless plumage with a kind of greasy sheen.
Spotless Starling

Black Kites wheeled over the lake many of them with very rufous underparts making confusion with Red Kite a strong possibility for the unwary.

Black Kite
On our first morning we drove the short distance to La Rocina, a reserve with several hides and a walkway through pines, wet woodland and scrub. Purple Gallinule was soon added to our list with several birds feeding in and around the reed beds. As well as House Martins several Red-rumped Swallow were hawking over the tree tops and, as we walked, we had good views of Serin, Melodious Warbler and Woodchat Shrike.
Serin - male in song
From La Rocina we carried on through the reserve to the Palacio del Acebron. A Wryneck was calling as we parked the car and after a short walk a Lesser Spotted Woodpecker was seen in trees close to the footpath but the most striking bird was a small male Common Waxbill which was collecting nesting material.
Common Waxbill - male
As we walked towards the palace at least three Iberian Chiffchaff were singing, distinguished by there chiff-chiff-chiff rendition of their song rather than the chiff-chaff we hear at home. They stayed in the tops of the trees but I managed a photo of one from below. They show a little more yellow streaking on the underparts but other than that can only be distinguished by the wing formula.
Iberian Chiffchaff
There were very few butterflies but this Green Hairstreak put on a good show.
Green Hairstreak
The familiar calls of a party of Long-tailed Tits could be heard in the trees, the birds here are of the Iberian race irbii, with a grey back and cheeks and often with darker markings on the upper breast.
Long-tailed Tit (Aegithalos caudatus irbii)

Driving down towards the coast we stopped at the wetland reserve of Acebuche.
Watching Iberian Azure-winged Magpies at Acebuche

There were plenty of Iberian Azure-winged Magpies around the car park and in the neighbouring woodland but the wetlands had few birds although Stonechats were very much in evidence and Marsh Harriers were seen hunting.
Iberian Azure-winged Magpie
Back at El Rocio the Little Bitterns put on another show and a Ruddy Shelduck was a surprise find although I understand it has been there some time.

It was an early start the following morning as we returned to La Rocina where Red-necked Nightjars obliged by sitting in the middle of the road and we had decent views by flash light. 
We then drover around the Coto Donana Reserve to the Valverde Centre, a place I have not previously visited but would certainly go again. The water level was perfect and as we stopped we were greeted by a cacophony of Great Reed Warblers making so much noise it almost drowned out speech.
Great Reed Warbler
Difficult to count but there must have been dozens in the small reed bed and surrounding Tamarisk bushes. Nearby a Western Olivaceous sang insistently but I was unable to see it in the dense vegetation.
Black-necked Grebes were present in good numbers and often quite close to the track and all in beautiful summer plumage.
Black-necked Grebes

Scanning across a large open area three Pin-tailed Sandgrouse flew across the marsh before dropping in to a wet area, presumably to drink. It started to rain late morning but we had great views of Whiskered Terns before we retreated to the centre for lunch.

Whiskered Tern

One of the real delights of the Valverde Reserve are the breeding herons, egrets and ibis. We saw at least 6 pairs of Purple Heron nesting in the reedbed behind the centre and had amazing views of Squacco Heron with the most striking bill colour I have seen.
Purple Hero
Squacco Heron

A male Ferruginous Duck was a nice find as we left the reserve and headed off for Dehesa de Abajo. Here we saw the spectacle of breeding White Storks which are nesting at little more than head height. We were searching for Crested Coot but saw only one or two Common Coot but were compensated by reasonable views of a Marbled Duck which is becoming increasingly scarce in Iberia.
Marbled Duck

The following morning (1st May) we headed of for the wetlands of Brazo del Este close to Los Palacios.
Birdwatching on the road to Los Palacios

A male Montagu's Harrier welcomed us to the area but we were soon watching an incomer from Africa; Black-headed Weavers at their nests.
Black-headed Weaver

A short drive away we were heading up the track overlooking the flooded areas and soon found a group of Collared Pratincoles which duly flew directly over our heads.
Collared Pratincole
Several Woodchat Shrike were using the fence posts bordering the track as perches and giving very close views.
Woodchat Shrike
At one point we could see eight Purple Swamphen feeding around the edge, and even in the open on the marsh. Larks could be heard singing over the dryer areas and we soon identified both Crested and Short-toed.
Short-toed Lark
Whilst watching the larks a sharp eyed member of the group picked out a female Kentish Plover also on the dried mud and possibly nesting in the area.
Kentish Plover
We heard several Golden Oriole and had brief views of a female as it crossed over the embankment in front of our vehicle. On the way back to El Rocio we called in at the Zorillo pools but the weather was worsening and we had more rain but we did manage to locate three White-headed Duck before we were rained off.

The following morning we set of for Portugal where we will be staying in Mertola but more of that in the second instalment. On the way we stopped of close to Huelva at the Marismas del Odiel. Nest platforms for Osprey have been erected with some success here and we soon located a bird sitting close to one nest. The Osprey is quite scarce in SW Spain so this is one of the best places to see them. We were soon adding shorebirds to our list with some superb Curlew Sandpiper resplendent in their breeding plumage. Little Stints, Bar-tailed Godwit, Knot, Whimbrel and Grey Plover were also feeding on the marshes. We had expected Yellow-legged Gulls but they were only present in low numbers and we saw a single Audouin's Gull which is becoming increasingly common around the Spanish coast but a second summer Slender-billed Gull was a surprise.
Audouin's Gull - second summer
 Star bird for me though was a male Montagu's Harrier which circled directly over us.
Montagu's Harrier - male
Surprisingly the only White Wagtail of the trip was seen at the information centre whilst we ate our lunch. Then we headed off for Portugal.