Tuesday, 27 September 2016

Southern Spain Part II - Tarifa

We arrived at Tarifa late in the afternoon and checked in to the delightful Meson de Sancho hotel, as I locked up the van I noticed several Short-toed Eagles flying back inland from the nearby coast, presumably to roost overnight having decided not to make the crossing today. I ended up standing next to the van for over an hour and counted 50 Short-toed and 10 Booted Eagles,10 Black Kite, 6 Honey Buzzards, 4 Griffon and single Egyptian Vulture plus 6 Black Stork, 4 Alpine and 15 Pallid Swift all crossing the road above the hotel. A fantastic welcome to Tarifa!
Short-toed Eagle
I was up early the following morning, although it was almost 8:00 before it was properly light. I caught several Short-toed Eagles heading back towards the coast whilst Serin and Robins called from the hotel garden.
Plenty of decent habitat around the hotel pool
After breakfast we headed a few kilometres down the coast to the Cazalla raptor watchpoint. Between 09:45 and 13:00 we recorded the following;
Short-toed Eagle 106
Booted Eagle 104
Black Kite 10
Common Buzzard 1
Honey Buzzard 2
Spanish Imperial Eagle 1 immature
Lesser Spotted Eagle 1
Egyptian Vulture 12
Griffon Vulture 15
White Stork 100+
Black Stork 150
Raptor watching at Cazalla
Booted Eagle
Black Storks
Honey Buzzard - juvenile
Unfortunately the Spanish Imperial and Lesser Spot were distant but had some great views of everything else.
In the afternoon we took the boat trip into the Straits. The Bottle-nosed Dolphins came right up to the boat and included at least one calf, they looked to be enjoying themselves and several animals had a spell of breeching. 
Bottle-nosed Dolphin - adult with calf
Bottle-nosed Dolphin breeching
A pod of Pilot Whales appeared next and again we were treated to boat side views of these superb animals.
Pilot Whale
Birds were few and far between but we managed 4 or 5 Scopoli's Shearwaters and a small flock of terns which looked like Black but were rather distant.
The following morning we went down to the hide at Los Lances beach just West of Tarifa. We had great views of Knot, Whimbrel, Bar-tailed Godwit and a single Curlew Sandpiper in with the Dunlin. The Kentish Plovers were a little distant as was a group of around 20 Audouin's Gulls with  a similar number of Yellow-legged.
Across the road we had several Tawny Pipits along with the common Stonechats and Corn Bunting.
Returning to the hotel for lunch we added Short-toed Treecreeper and Firecrest to the holiday list and I had nice views of a female Sardinian Warbler before heading to the flooded rice fields of La Janda. 
Sardinian Warbler
We made a slight, but unsuccessful, diversion to the cliffs behind Bolonia following a call from Mick Cunningham to alert us to a Ruppell's Vulture on the cliffs but it left before we got there.
There were large numbers of Glossy Ibis and White Storks in the paddy fields and we had 3 Black-winged Kites along the dirt track that dissects the area, one was reasonably close and peared down at us looking almost cat like, but the other 2 were rather distant and heat haze can be a problem with distant birds.
Black-winged Kite

Further on a small river passed under the track and we had several Red-rumped Swallows hawking overhead.
I got up early the following morning and went down to Tarifa beach with a view to photographing the Audouin's Gulls. They were not quite where they had been yesterday so I had a long walk up the beach but got some photos just after the sun rose.
Audouin's Gull - adult and 2cy
On the walk back I came across two Iberian Chiffchaff fly catching from some stunted pines close to the beach. I was surprised how yellow they looked and wondered if I had misidentified some earlier birds around Los Palacios as Willow Warbler at the start of the week.
Iberian Chiffchaff
We returned to Cabala after breakfast. Birds were a bit higher than our previous visit but we had several hundred Booted and Short-toed Eagles with Booted the commonest. Several parties of Alpine Swift appeared overhead and disappeared just as quickly. A few more Honey Buzzard and some close Griffon Vulture and a single Goshawk gave us some variety before heading back for lunch.
Griffon Vulture
In the afternoon we returned to La Janda and were quickly rewarded with a female Montagu's Harrier and, surprisingly, my first Squacco Heron of the trip. A large flock of Woodpigeon numbering several hundred had not been there two days ago. Further on we found a nice Purple Heron and superb juvenile Woodchat Shrike amongst a scattering of migrants including Whinchat, Redstart and Pied Flycatcher.
On our final morning Phil and I went down to Tarifa beach, a change in wind direction had brought Scopoli's Shearwaters much closer inshore but still distant for photos. 
Scopoli's Shearwater
All too soon we were heading for Malaga airport and our flight home. It was a fantastic trip and I won't forget the circling raptors over Cazalla or Little Swifts at Chipiona. Thanks to all the members of Cambridge U3A for making it such an enjoyable adventure.

Southern Spain 17th - 24th September - Part 1 Los Palacios to Ronda

I have just returned from a fantastic week in Spain with Bird Holidays and a group from Cambridge U3A. We flew to Malaga then drove across to our base for three nights at Los Palacios south of Seville. We stayed at the Manolo Mayo hotel in the town centre which was very nice and well located for the local birding sites.
On the 18th we visited the mixed habitat bordering the River Guadalquivir at Trebujena then drove down to the Bonanza salt pans ending the day on the coast at Chipiona. 
Along the river we had several Wild Boar with young digging around in the soft mud on the riverbank.
Common birds included Fantailed and Sardinian Warblers with a few Chiffchaff, we also had 4 or 5 Spectacled Warblers  in the Suaeda type habitat and several Lesser Short-toed Lark. An Osprey with a blue darvic ring was probably ringed in the UK! 
At the Bonanza salt pans we had our first party of Black Stork passing overhead and a handful of Griffon Vulture. There was a nice group of about 60 Slender-billed Gulls in one area.
There was a very confiding Bar-tailed Godwit which appeared healthy but fed unconcernedly whilst we took photos. 
Bar-tailed Godwit
Other waders were Greenshank, Dunlin and a few Little Stint plus a single Curlew Sandpiper. At least 2 Caspian Tern patrolled the salt pans and I should mention that there were at least 200 Greater Flamingo.
As we left the area we called in at the small pools in Bonanza which provided great views of White-headed Duck plus a single Marbled Teal which was unexpected.
White-headed Duck
Marbled Duck
Chipiona marina is famous for its small colony of Little Swifts and that was our next stop. The birds were still visiting the nests under a loading canopy and we didn't have long to wait until the first bird flew in, this bird and several others were carrying feathers in to the nest which seems odd in late September. A single Pallid Swift was also still visiting a nest and we saw several more of the town. Lance Degnan with another Bird Holidays group saw 20 Little Swifts the following day, so they are clearly well established here.

Little Swift & nest
The following morning we drove to the southern end of the Brazo del Este marshes which comprises of drainage channels, pools and reedbeds. The area is known for the adventive species that have become established here from Africa and we saw Yellow Bishop, Black-headed Weaver, Red Adavadat and Common Waxbill all in reasonable numbers. 

Yellow Bishop
The behaviour of the male Yellow Bishop was striking, he stood atop a tall reed then launched in to the air, appearing to inflate his body by fluffing his feathers then 'buzzed' around looking like a large bee!
The weavers were nest building along one of the drainage channels.
Black-headed Weaver

I have never seen so many Glossy Ibis, they were everywhere and there must have been several thousand. They shared the pools with Spoonbill whilst Cattle Egrets fed on the margins. 
Brazo del Este

A group of 30 Collared Pratincole landed on the muddy edge of one of the larger pools and hawked over head with several Whiskered Terns including a nice dark backed juvenile. A couple of Bluethroat were seen briefly by some members of the group but eluded me but one of several Penduline Tits paused briefly on top of the reeds posing nicely. 

Penduline Tit
Later we visited the northern part of the same marshes and I got some nice photos of the striking Crimson Speckled moth and Banded Groundling which has a very restricted range in Europe. Here rice paddies bordered the pools and drainage channels and there were many crayfish visible in the murky pools. 
Crimson Speckled

Banded Groundling
Butterflies were not common but in one area I came across several Swallow-tails.
That evening we visited an area of open grassland and Parasol Pines waiting until dusk when first one, then a second Red-necked Nightjar took to the wing and briefly calling. 
Red-necked Nightjar site
A largish owl flew by and was probably Long-eared but it was by then too dark to be certain.
The following morning we set off for Tarifa but went via Ronda and stopped nearby for some upland birds. In Ronda itself we encountered several Crossbill during a refuelling stop plus Red-billed Chough over the cliffs.
A few kilometres outside Ronda we stopped in a rocky valley and almost immediately saw a couple of Black Wheatear on top of a ridge. 
A distant Golden Eagle circled above shortly to be joined by a second bird and we were treated to some superb display with the eagle stooping and rolling high above the hillside. 
Golden Eagle
A closer scan of the immediate area produced a couple of Black-eared and single male Northern Wheatear and Blue Rockthrush with several Crag Martin overhead.
We departed for Tarifa - see above

Monday, 12 September 2016

Wallcreeper - Sixt, French Alps

I am a regular visitor to the French Alps and manage to see Wallcreeper most summers, but they are usually at high altitude on inaccessible rock faces and the views are therefore rather distant. 
So it was a real treat this year when my brother came across two birds on a rock face he was climbing at Rocher des Tines near Sixt which is just a short walk from the road and not very high. I went the following day and was lucky to find a female still feeding in the area, despite several climbers sharing the cliff.
The bird was very active constantly flicking its wings open to reveal the red primaries and moving from sunlight to shade. It was very intent on looking for insects on the rock face making it difficult to get the head in profile and with some light in the eye but I was pleased with many of the photos.

It did stop and preen for a few minutes and gave some nice wing stretches when it had finished.

It was difficult to see what it was feeding on but it looked to be some type of larva that was hidden in the cracks in the rocks. You can just about see this in the photo below.
I made several more visits to the cliff on the following days but never saw the Wallcreeper again. At this time of year they will be leaving the breeding sites and moving to lower altitude so I assume thats what these birds were doing.

Brittany coast - 24th -28th August

This was my first trip to Brittany so wasn't quite sure what to expect but the coast is very scenic and very reminiscent of Cornwall to where the area has a strong affinity.
One bird I was keen to photograph was Red-billed Chough. Photographs of all dark birds are quite a challenge and need decent light and some colour in the background. The setting at Pointe de Pen-Hir was superb with a carpet of flowers atop rocky cliffs.
Red-billed Chough
There were not many other birds on the headland but Gannets were passing off-shore and I disturbed several Grayling from amongst the flowers.
Moving down the coast I visited the small pools of Le Petit Loch, just south of Guidel Plage. There were a few waders round the edge including Greenshank, Curlew, and Common and Green Sandpiper. I searched for Bluethroat without success but did manage a single Wryneck with a few Cetti's and Fan-tailed Warblers and family parties of Stonechat.
The next stop was on the Quiberon peninsula were we stayed for a few days. On the drive to the end we made several stops and came across a nice area with gulls and terns as well as Rock Pipits, they were all of the race petrosus as we have in the UK.

Rock Pipit

Amongst the mainly Black-headed Gulls were several Mediterranean including some reasonably fresh juveniles which I don't see very often.
Mediterranean Gull - adult
Mediterranean Gull - juvenile moulting to 1st winter
We stayed close to the tip of the peninsula near the town of Quiberon. The rocky headland had plenty of shorebirds with hundreds of Sanderling and Turnstone with a few Whimbrel and Dunlin. Some of the Turnstone were still in reasonable breeding plumage.
I had male Cirl Bunting singing at the campsite and several more in the last bushes on the point. Most were adult males but I did manage to find a couple of juveniles.
Cirl Bunting - male
Cirl Bunting -juvenile
The only other bird of note was the large numbers of Wood Pigeon flying down the peninsula, several thousand in number. I can only assume they stop at the end and eventually return.