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Saturday, February 28, 2015

The big salty lake at Fuente de Piedre - Cranes, Sandpipers & Flamingoes then some Raptor migration in the raw at Tarifa

Without taking a ferry across to Morocco (been seriously toying with the idea), I've gone as far south as I planned to do and now kicking my heels in the Kite surfing capital of Europe .. Tarifa.

Kites at Tarifa, feb 2015
Barn Swallow, Fuente de Piedre, 23rd Feb 2015
En route I stopped off at Fuente de Piedre after a long drive from Almeria and was immediately into House Martins, Barn Swallows and the odd Red Rumped Swallow buzzing around my head. I've tried and failed so many times to get decent pics of Swallows and other hirundines but in the perfect late afternoon sunshine that greeted me here I was partly redeemed ...

House Martin, Fuente de Piedre, 23 Feb 2015
After spending 30 minutes trying to get what I thought would be my best ever Wood Sandpiper pic, it turned out to be a pale Green Sandpiper, never mind, the pic wasn't that good anyway but the many Black Tailed Godwits were very photogenic in the last rays of the setting sun ...

Black Tailed Godwit, Fuente de Piedre, 23 Feb 2015

Black Tailed Godwit, Fuente de Piedre, 23 Feb 2015
 After so much windy weather it was a joy to have at least one day of calm and although it didn't last long it was good to rest up and explore in relatively kind conditions. I stuck around for a couple of days here and traversed the whole reserve. Birds of note included a female Hen Harrier, 4 Golden Plover, 6 Little Ringed Plover, 2 Water Pipits, 4 Ruff and a flock of 20 or so Spanish Sparrows. This large inland mainly saline laguna (over 1500 Hectares) is world famous for it's resident Greater Flamingoes (up to 50,000 some years .. during my visit a mere 3000 or so!) and wintering Common Cranes (I counted a max of 360).

Access to the very best bits is limited and regularly patrolled by the SEO (bird life Spain) but there are several viewing areas and the whole lake is easily circumnavigated by minor roads. The visitor centre just outside of the village of the same name is an obvious place to start any visit but if you're a birder its best to avoid weekends when the Spanish and their offspring go a walking!

Common Cranes over Fuente de Piedre, 23rd Feb 2015
Common Cranes in the fields surrounding Fuente de Piedre, 23rd Feb, 2015

Fuente de Piedre, (West side)

Spanish Sparrows, Fuente de Piedre, 24 Feb 2015

Golden Plover gaining its Summer pl, Fuente de Piedre, 24 Feb 2015

Water Pipit, Fuente de Piedre

Common Sandpiper, Fuente de Piedre, 23 Feb 2015

Fuente de Piedre (from the West)

Singing Corn Bunting, Fuente de Piedre, 24 Feb 2015
 Lots of common Spanish birds around and about the fields ... Stonechats by the dozen, Chiffchaffs, Crested & Short Toed Lark (impossible to photograph!) and lets here it for the humble Corn Bunting ....the day I come to Andalusia and fail to see one of these 'dumpsters' will be a sad one indeed. Their jangly song (likened to a rattling of keys) is already a rare sound in my own corner of the UK due to habitat loss and I wonder how long they'll be as common here. It'll win no beauty contest in the avian world but I love 'em even more for that so here's 3 for the Corn Bunting gallery including one singing ...

Corn Bunting, Fuente de Piedre, 24 Feb 2015
Corn Bunting, Fuente de Piedre, 24 Feb 2015
An overnight stop and a brief morning explore around Alora and the El Chorro gorge produced more Swallows, Little Ringed Plovers and another Teminck's Stint on the Rio Guadalhorce and a rather tasty Black Crowned Night Heron perched on a telegraph wire at dusk.

timbobagginsabroad, spain 2015
Black Crowned Night Heron, Rion Guadalhorce at Alora, 25th Feb 2015
Cliffs above El Chorro

Tarifa meanwhile has been a tad disappointing so far from a migrant point of view with just one brief moment of major passage on the 26th Feb ... with White Storks, Griffon Vultures, Black Kites, a few Common Buzzards, Barn Swallows and a probable Ring Ouzel braving the enduring Westerly winds

Migrating Black Kite, Tarifa, 26th Feb 2015

Migrating White Storks rising on thermals, Tarifa, 26th Feb 2015

Oystercatchers, Tarifa, 26th Feb 2015

I'm sure there are plenty of these knocking about in my home county right now but they're not a common bird anywhere in Spain and I was pleased to tick these Oystercatchers off the list!

In the increasing warmth of the SW a few butterflies are on the wing, Clouded Yellows being the most obvious amongst the 'whites' and here in Tarifa I've had several of these winged beauties - Monarch Butterflies ... normally associated with North America, there is an Iberian / Canary Isles population and very welcome they are too flying around on huge slow wings like small colourful bats!

Monarch Butterfly, Tarfifa, 26th Feb 2015
Clouded Yellow, Alora, 25th Feb 2015

...... and clinging on to the undersides of a drainage pipe some kind of Geko?
Geko sp, Tarifa, 26th Feb 2015


Migrating Short Toed Eagle, nr Tarifa, 28th Feb 2015
Today (28th Feb) has been better for raptor migration with some impressive Black Kite movements early this morning with appx 100 in off the sea at 09.00ish. I looked up and the sky was suddenly filled with winged shapes! All over within 3 mins and I was so busy watching I didn't get a single shot off. More through the day and in total maybe 250 over the straits of Gibralter with the occasional Marsh Harrier, Common Buzzard, plenty of Griffons moving across and 3 Short Toed Eagles. There was also a steady movement of Barn Swallows and House Martins.

Migrating Short Toed Eagle, nr Tarifa, 28th Feb 2015
Griffon Vulture crossing over from Africa, nr Tarifa, 28th Feb 2015
Been quite a day and to cap it off 40 or so more Black Kites in over Tarifa town itself at dusk. The weather is set fine for a few days with little or no wind so I expect more and anticipating Pallid and Alpine Swifts any day!
... and to round off here's a couple of birds that are totally everywhere and thus tend to get passed over ... Stonechats are a speciality bird in Yorkshire and Crested Larks none existent!
Stonechat (male), Tarifa
Singing Crested Lark, Fuente de Piedre, 23 Feb 2015

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Mar Menor blasted by the elements, Mountains high and calm, Guadix eagles and a cracking Chough to boot!

timbobagginsabroad, feb 2015
Cabo de Palos, Feb 18th 2015

You can see Mar Menor on the map but you'll not see much footage from here because the gale force winds that have been blowing from the North persisted the whole time I was there. It rained all day the 17th at San Pedro del Pinatar and the normally calm Med looked like this at Cabo de Palos.

Cabo de Palos harbour

The nice little harbour there housed some nice little and not so little yachts and boats and during a brief lull in the wind and the rain brought a much needed dash of colour to the day.

Enough was enough and I decided to drive away from the weather, into Almeria and the semi desert areas around Tabernas, surely it would be dry and warm there!

Nr Tabernas, Almeria, Feb 19th 2015

Nope, not really! In the shadow of the Sierra Nevada to the east I was expecting it to be cold (it was) but in a place that receives less than 250mm of rain a year I wasn't expecting light drizzle and as you can see from this pic of Almerian heights rising towards the Sierra Nevada, the wind was still blowing! Not nearly as strong but enough to blow those Tamarisks around!

Blue Rock Thrush, Tabernas

From the town of Tabernas itself I got my first Blue Rock Thrush of the trip, bit of a grainy effort due to the poor light but never seen one perched on Prickly Pear before, and speaking of cactus this is one I've not seen here before and as yet not identified.

Cactus sp, Tabernas, Almeria, Feb 2015

timbobagginsabroad, feb 2015
Spanish Ibex, Olula, Almeria
Amidst the turbulence there were calmer moments and none more so than when I dragged the van up to the top of Castro de Filabres and Olula de Castro on the eastern edge of the Sierra Nevada. Splendid views, hardly a soul to be seen and the only sound to disturb the silence was the clattering of hooves on rock of Spanish Ibex

By the sixe of their horns these are surely young 'uns

timbobagginsabroad, feb 2015
Spanish Ibex, Olula, Almeria
Olula de Castro
Almerian rack and ruin, nr Tabernas.
Further down, in the dusty foothills, this is more typical of Almeria and whilst there are the plenty of Larks (Thekla and Crested mainly) and the odd Blue Rock Thrush and Rock Bunting nothing much stirs!

But certainly, if you want to get away from it all and have a quiet time, this is the place!
On the edge of the Sierra Nevada, nr Olula de Castro
El Almendral, Almeria
The van loved the descent from there! Back down in Gergal and a cafĂ© on the outskirts of town, a Spanish naturalist tapped me on the shoulder as I was processing some pics and despite his English being as bad as my Spanish, by the power of the photographic image I was able to establish that he was a butterfly enthusiast, but he knew his birds too, and he pointed me in the direction of a pair of Bonelli's Eagles. I didn't see them but the trip up to said place was memorable and around the small village of El Almendral, where they were supposed to be, was wild, weird and wonderful!

Heading further west I stopped for a day close to the Sierra de Baza parc naturel nr Guadix. Wind free and warm for a change, the sandy dry riverbed of the Rambla de Finana brought me a splendidly close Red Billed Chough, one of a pair that looked like they were nest prospecting.

Red Billed Chough, nr Guadix, 22nd Feb 2015

There are dry river beds, or ramblas as they are known colloquially, right across the region of Almeria and the trick is to find one that still has a bit of water in it ... then you'll get wildlife. This one started off dry and barren then suddenly developed a trickle!

Rambla de Finana, Nr Guadix
Rambla de Finana, Nr Guadix

Rambla de Finana, Nr Guadix

Rambla de Finana, Nr Guadix

.... and as soon as you get water, you get life
Red Squirrel, Rambla de Finana

Red Squirrel, Rambla de Finana

Chiffchaff, Rambla de Finana

Chiffchaff, Rambla de Finana

The Chiffchaff was one of 10 or so all within 30 metres of wet stream.

Black Wheatera, Rambla de Finan
Its easy to get lost in a world of your own down in some of these ramblas. With a bit more care and attention, not to mention focus, this could have been my best ever Black Wheatear pic .. they're devilishly skitty!

Golden Eagle, imm / juv, Rambla de Finan, 22 feb 2015

Stepping outside the river bed in an attempt to gain some height and perspective I certainly did have to focus as 2 immature / juv Golden Eagles sailed past!

Never easy to get a close shot, these 2 came right over my head and then kept going without flapping once!

Golden Eagle, imm / juv, Rambla de Finan, 22 feb 2015

Golden Eagle, imm / juv, Rambla de Finan, 22 feb 2015
That made my morning, the way the light was shining through these magnificent bird's wings as they sailed majestically above me was nothing short of breath taking. This last pic isn't the best by any means, this bird was a kilometre above me, but look at those wing spots ... awesome!