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Thursday, November 28, 2013

Tarifa chill out after the scorched earth and plastic of Almeria

Rio Jara Campsite, from the beach
So here I am kicking my heels and in relaxed / reflective mode here in Tarifa .... a place for loafers, surfers, bums & gays from all over Europe. Mellow is my mood and I suspect I may well be here for a couple if not 3 days.

Tarifa shoreline ....Africa in the distance

The weather isn't brilliant, bit windy with the odd squally shower, but hey its 6.30pm, not quite dark and the van door is open as I recline against my many cushions in the camper and write this (wine glass half full by the way).

I've come a long way, seen some great birds and scenery and taken many pictures so here's a bit of a round up, with a bit of reflection, of the last few days after El Fondo and travelling through Murcia and Almeria.

The semi desert area of Almeria ... really struggled for birds around here, despite going up high and tramping around the mountains amidst the wind turbines
Wind Turbines at the top of Taburnas

The Almerian Desert, nr Taburnas

Best birds were whenever stopped off to break the journey, on one such break, nr the village of Gonar, I had a Scops Owl perched right in front of the van on a tree, Thekla Lark, 2 Hoopoes and my first Blue Rock Thrush of the trip

Blue Rock Thrush, nr Gonar

Blue Rock Thrush, nr Gonar

Tekla Lark, nr Gonar

Shame I missed out on a decent pic of that Scops Owl in trying to track it down I stumbled across this exquisite little butterfly .... I have this down as a Desert Orange Tip, much more of an African butterfly and pretty scarce in Spain.

Desert Orange Tip?

Further up in the mountains I had this tired looking Painted Lady .... the pic's good for the rocky surrounds as well as the butterfly itself - scorched earth!!

Painted Lady, nr Taburnas

Had a freshly dead snake in the road up there too .... shows you how arid it still is around here. Not sure what it is, possibly a Whip snake.

Travelling down through Almeria I was appalled at the amount plastic around the place. The locals seem to be taking every piece of suitable land and erecting huge swathes of plastic greenhouse to cover their crops. I know that mouths have to be fed and that men must earn the dollar but surely there's a more sustainable way than this ....
Plastic creeping up the mountains on the Almerian coast

At Las Norias the 'greenhouse effect' was as pronounced as I've seen, still a few good birds about but the rubbish that is left when the greenhouses have done their job and are just left to rot is not one of Spain's better conservation efforts!
Discarded greenhouses at Las Norias

Discarded greenhouses at Las Norias

Plastic rubbish at Las Norias

As with much of this part of Spain, the numbers of small birds, finches, Starlings, White Wagtails and especially Chiff Chaffs is a major feature of the bird-life here in Nov / Dec. I must have had 150, maybe more Chiff Chaffs at Las Norias alone! It was akin to a 'fall' of migrants at say Spurn or Flamborough Head!

Chiff Chaff, Las Norias

Chiff Chaffs, Las Norias

Greenshank, nr Cabo de Gata,

Starlings ... so many over here!!
It took a while to get used to seeing Crag Martins flying over reed beds instead of rock faces and even longer to get a half decent photo but this ain't bad ....

Crag Martin, Las Norias
Red Crested Pochard, Las Norias

So I've had a slight change of plan and decided not to take in the Sierra Andujar - its just much back tracking and for birds and scenery that I'm sure will be replicated in Extramadura, lets just hope it doesn't rain for a week because its pelting down now in Tarifa .... shame, I was hoping for some seascapes and sea birds!
I might drift off to Cape Trafalgar later if the weather improves and then tomorrow I'm off to Bonanza!



Tuesday, November 26, 2013

El Fondo ... very fond I am! Best Bluethroat, Great Grey Shrike & Wryneck pics ever, plus pretty pink Flamingoes & n Eagle to Boot!

Murcia and Almeria, the 2 most South-eastern regions of Spain do of course have their attractions and with that wonderful thing called hindsight I may have been better off taking in some of the history and heritage of these Moorish / Romanesque areas, like Cartegena or Baez, or even take in a bit of live music .... not doing enough of that and spending too much time on the road! Note to self as I'm halfway through my escapade.

Stand out day by a mile and worth every minute of motorway toil was Sunday at the El Fondo (actually just still inside Valenciana but lets not quibble!). I'd arrived Sat eve and after struggling to find an entrance ('oo er missus!') and then strayed onto the duck hunting area by mistake, I finally navigated myself to the reserve proper ... had about 30mins of decent light left but with Flamingoes and Marsh Harriers flying about, Chiff Chaffs in nearly every bush and some very chatty Flemish tourists (not Belgian .. we're Flemish!), it was enough to persuade me to stop over and do a morning there.

Frustrating as it was, in my walking about the previous day I had in fact added another 3 good species to the tally... Great Grey Shrike .......
Great Grey Shrike, Nr El Fondo

Booted Eagle ....
Booted Eagle, Nr El Fondo

and the most elusive, most skulking of birds ever, Bluethroat .....
Bluethroat, Nr El Fondo

Yes I know, rubbish and 'record only' pic, but at the time I seriously thought this was going to be one of my few opportunities to snap one of these 'Robin like' undergrowth dwellers. I needn't have fretted...... day 2 at El Fondo -

Now this is what a Bluethroat through the lens should look like!

Male Bluethroat, El Fondo

Male Bluethroat2, El Fondo
Male Bluethroat3, El Fondo
Male Bluethroat4, El Fondo
 I can't begin to tell you how lucky I was to get this beauty. I'd glimpsed this bird briefly but both it and I were a bit put off by the several groups of Spanish families doing the usual continental 'walkabout somewhere nice of a Sunday morning' kind of thing... but I was persistent and patient, got myself well positioned and just waited. An hour later, my pack up eaten and he showed up again in the same spot!

About 90 mins earlier, when I rolled up in the car park, I was just as lucky ... only had a couple of Wrynecks calling and perched on fence posts just 50 metres away from the van!
Wryneck, El Fondo
Wryneck, El Fondo

I'd not realised that some Wrynecks, so rare in the UK, over winter in this part of Spain. Never photographed one before!

As I was debating getting out of the van to get a closer shot, this monster Great Grey Shrike came and perched on the wire fence just in front of me..... megatastic and almost too close for my lens!!!
Great Grey Shrike, El Fondo

Now I may have happened on a good day but I'd thoroughly recommend El Fondo to any birder in this part of Spain ... its big, got good birds and the viewing platforms are 2nd to none. 

El Fondo reserve, nr Crevillent
Viewing platform, El Fondo .. with added Flamingoes!

 Zoom in on the above and you'll see some Flamingoes flying over. Many Winter here and I reckoned on about 300 in total ... here's a couple of fly pasts (so tricky not to cut at least one of their heads off!)

Flamingoes, El Fondo

Fan Tailed Warbler, or Zitting Cisticola if you prefer!
 Such was my luck on this most glorious of days, I even managed to capture a reasonable image of that most annoyingly cute little buzzy thing that if not heard, always makes you think you've seen something better! Its the curiously named Zitting Cisticola or Fan Tailed Warbler of course!
..... to my mind this is a much 'posier' and 'eagle like' Booted Eagle
Booted Eagle, El Fondo

..... although not the prettiest of birds, this Glossy Ibis, an isolated individual amongst several flocks around the reserve, deserves a slot too on one of my best ever days for bird photography
Glossy Ibis, El Fondo

..... last up and one of my personal favourite and most photogenic of waders, the good old Black Winged Stilt, lots here!
Black Winged Stilt, El Fondo

 Fab day and that was 4 days ago. In Tarifa now, right on the Southern most tip of Spain ... the good old Rio Jara camp site, still going ... I first came here 25 years ago!!!

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Beating it South, 15,000 Cranes, fab Hen Harriers and resting up time in Alicante.

For the first time in my so far fantastic journey through Spain, I felt a bit of time pressure and the need to head South. Having thoroughly enjoyed the high peaks of the Pyrenees and the splendour of the Sierra Guarra, I realise that if I want to have some quality time in Extramadura I have to beat it down through Spain with a bit more purpose!

Good progress South!

So, Satnav set for beyond Zaragoza and away we go ....

Couple of places on my itinerary I wanted to stop off at on the way, the first of which is the Belchite Steppes, a place that had been recommended to me as a useful spot for picking up Sandgrouse, Dupont's Lark and Golden Eagle. Fat chance! The wind that's been picking up in these parts for days must have reached near on a gale force northeasterly when I arrived in Belchite and it fair rocked my van around in the night. The morning, though bright and sunny brought no relief, Crikey oh Riley it was windy! ..... yes there were birds about, several larks and finches but all too fleeting and everything going to ground real fast, too fast for my hand eye binoc co-ordination. Hopeless for birding ... I was both staggering and staggered -  what a spectacular place!

The Belchite Steppes

Awesome place for a van pic!

Windy on the Steppes of Belchite

I did see a Sandgrouse here, which one - black bellied or pin tailed I'm not sure as it was one of those 'flying away and getting smaller' birding moments and all I was left with was an image of extreme windiness!

Further south and east I ventured, on through Aragon and towards Valencia, and the vast inland plains ringed by mountain ranges that typify this part of Spain, stopping now and again for food & succour.... bread, cheese, chorizo and here's a tip travellers - check out the many truck cafes on the motorways ... good grub and cheap as chips - Spanish Omelette, huge slice of, some kind of apple cake (huge slice of!) and coffee to go for only 3.50euro!

Laguna de Gallocanta
I was heading for Valencia and the Marjol del Morro reserve but seeing a signpost for Gallocanta I decided on a detour to take in the big salt lagoon there. Another visually awesome place, the huge lagoon, although at an altitude of 1000m, is set in a natural depression and ringed on all sides by mountain ranges. Difficult to get a feel for the place from a photograph but if you think 'film sets' and a combination of valley of the dinosaurs and spaghetti western you'll get the idea!

Its renowned as a wintering and staging post for thousands of Common Cranes - my reason for visiting, and at any one point in the Autumn it can hold up to 50,000 of them! Well I've no idea how many were there on the late afternoon I arrived but my best guess was 15,000. Staggering numbers and all around me as I sat in a one man hide on the grassy shores.
Common Cranes across Gallocanta

Spot the gangly teenager!
Have to be my best Crane pics to date and not looked at them all yet, mainly because I've been too busy drooling over a host of my best ever Hen Harrier pics ... I reckon there were 3 females quartering the shores and dykes around the lagoon. Here's 3 of the best....
Female Hen Harrier, Gallocanta
Female Hen Harrier, Gallocanta

Female Hen Harrier, Gallocanta

Marsh Harrier, Gallocanta

Couple of Marsh Harriers here too, in fact there are a lot of Marsh Harriers around generally, Red Kites and Griffons aside, these are the most common raptors I'm seeing as I drive through Spain.

I added Tree Sparrow to the species list here (big flock of 200 or so!) and will do tally up of species seen soon but for now I'm resting up on a camp site at Crevillant, nr Alicante, before heading on into Murcia. Couldn't believe the difference in temperature as I came down from inland Spain (most of which is over 1000m) to the coast ... 22c in Valencia as I drove through (lovely city but not for the faint hearted by the way, unless you just love 7 lanes of traffic!!

Resting van, resting man, Crevillent

Lots of flowers still in bloom here and a perfect place to get myself together, wash a few clothes and recharge my various batteries.

No idea, but looks great around the van!

and then there was Earnie and Linda from Huddersfield .... the first English people I've met since arriving in Spain. Nice people and a lovely couple, doing the right thing with their retirement just like me!

Earnie, Linda and the Hymer!