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Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Into Portugal, Tavira and back into Spain for the 'Bonanza' experience... displaying Booted Eagles, Spoonbills and Kites plus new migrants

My last 2 or 3 weeks here and the journey back north through Spain starts with a journey into Portugal to pick up my buddy Mark from Faro airport. Slightly dodgy start with a police fine of 30 euros for parking where I shouldn't have at the airport but great to catch up and have some company and banter along the way.

Tavira and Castro Marim being the obvious destinations before heading back into Spain and the salt pans of Sanlucar de Barremeda & Bonanza.

Spotted Redshank, Tavira (12th March 2015)
Tavira is part and parcel Algarve, part tourist, part good estuarine birding, always a good spot for waders with  Redshank, Whimbrel, Curlew, Dunlin, Sanderling, Little Stint, Ringed & Little Ringed Plovers  all in good numbers plus a good Spotted Redshank and another first for the trip ..  those legendary travellers - Bar Tailed Godwits.

Bar Tailed Godwits, Tavira

Whimbrel, Tavira (12th March 2015)
Sandwich Tern, Tavira
We searched in vain for a different tern species and did get a few Caspian Terns but in the main it was Sandwich Terns that were passing.

Further east towards the Spanish border a failed attempt to access the Castro Marim parc natural because of roadworks and diversions, took us instead to the fishing village of Villareal de Santa Antonio where we saw 100s of passing Gannets, some of them no doubt bound for UK breeding grounds, a few Great Skuas and some Pallid Swifts in off the sea.

Of human interest here were the activities of the many local shellfishers ... stretching as far as the eye could sea across the shallow estuary. One of the few times my 400m lens has come out for a landscape pic!

Shellfishers of Villareal de Santa Antonio
Nice place for a boat too .....

Villareal de San Antonio

The saltpans of Sanlucar/ Bonanza and the adjacent forests of parcel pine (or algeida) are old and favourite haunts of mine and Mark's. They make up the part of the mighty Donana reserve on the other side of the Guadalquiver river and although only a relatively short distance along the coast from where we were in Portugal, to get there involves a drive all the way to Sevilla and then down the other side of the river - 3 hrs!
On yer bike Mark! Bonanza

Worth it though. The weather was hot, the birds plentiful and Mark discovered he quite liked riding around on my bike!
So much to see here as always .... skies full of displaying Booted Eagles, Storks and migrant Black Kites, nesting Grey Herons and Spoonbills, flocks of Night Herons and to cap it all off 3 new migrants - Subalpine Warbler,a single Willow Warbler amongst the many wintering Chiffchaffs and 1 singing Nightingale.

Nesting Spoonbills, Bonanza, 16/03/15

White Storks nest building, Bonanza, 16/03/15

Black Kite overhead, Bonanza, 16/03/15

Black Kite, Bonanza, 16/03/15

Black Stork, Bonanza, 16/03/15

Willow Warbler, Bonanza, 16/03/15
Tricky to convey the majesty of displaying Booted Eagles in a hot blue sky but here's a pair circling together - a dark phase female and a light phase male.

Booted Eagle display flight

.... and the same male performing, soaring up, curling himself into a ball and then diving down in an almost vertical stoop before repeating in a series of looping soars and dives. Pretty awesome to see, the first time I've managed to photograph the event and these pics don't do the show any justice at all!

Booted Eagle display flight

Narcissus (wild daffodil), Bonanza, 16/03/15
Spring flowers like these Narcissus or wild Daffodil look as if they've been out for a week or so, in fact some seem to have 'gone over'

The other flower is Halimium, a kind of rock rose and a flowering shrub that dominates and covers the scrubland in places with gorgeous yellow blooms.

Halimium, Bonanza, 16/03/15

We searched in vain, as we always do, for a Western 'British' type Yellow Wagtail on passage but all seen, and there were a lot, were all of the Blue headed race. Jolly nice to see flitting about everywhere though!

Yellow Wagtail (Iberian / Blue headed), Bonanza, 16/03/15

Night Herons, Bonanza, 16/03/15 ... not the best of pics but never seen a flock this big!
Other good birds seen here but not photographed included Long Eared and Tawny Owl, Purple Swamphen, Osprey, 20 or so Marsh Harriers, Ruff, Tree & Spanish Sparrows and Calandra Larks.
Onto Extramudra next and our first point of call will be the plains of Serena, the biggest area of uncultivated land in Western Europe!

Saturday, March 14, 2015

El Rocio and getting out and about in the wilds of Donana

6th - 10th March 2015, Around El Rocio & Donana

El Rocio
After gales of Tarifa it was a a bit of a shock to the system to get up and walk around the sandy streets of El Rocio in hot, calm sunshine that was approaching 30c during the middle of the day! Although El Rocio itself has become more and more touristy every time I come back here it still retains that sense of 'other worldliness' that has made it such a magnet for travellers and pilgrims for centuries.

El Rocio - back of town
Spoonbill, El Rocio, 6th March

If you've never been and find yourself in this part of the world I'd highly recommend at least a day trip if only to sample the atmosphere. More info here.

Lots of birders and wildlife enthusiasts from all over Europe here as usual .. Dutch, British, German all with the gear, some go on the tours (not for me), some stick around El Rocio and do the nearby reserves of Rocina and Acebron, and  there's plenty see .... Spoonbills in full breeding plumage

Spoonbill, El Rocio, 6th March
Glossy Ibis looking incredibly glossy ...this one, like many is clearly ringed and the number clearly visible so in theory possible to track it's movements.
Glossy Ibis, El Rocio, 6th March
.... and small flocks of beautiful Azure Winged Magpies floating around the Stone Pine forests of La Rocina.

Azure Winged Magpie, La Rocina, 7th March 2015
Full on Spring here of course and every day it seems I come across a new wild flower or freshly emerging butterfly species ....

Wild Lavender, Acebuche (Donana), 8th March 2015

Water Crowfoot, El Rocio, 6th March, 2015

This is probably my best Clouded Yellow effort .....

Clouded Yellow, Acebron

A couple of Swallowtail Butterflies around too but never quite got either still enough for long enough!

Swallowtail Butterfly, Acebron, 8th March 2015

Green Hairsteak
... and then another small green winged butterfly, a Green Hairstreak. All because I stopped the bike for a passing raptor that looked a bit different. Different alright ... a Goshawk, an adult male according to my recently arrived amigo Mark.

 Shame it was so distant, hence the thumbnail pics but it's undeniably a Gos!

Goshawk, Acebron, 8th March 2015

Goshawk, Acebron, 8th March 2015

Beyond the easily accessible reserves of Rocina, Acebron & Acebuche and access to the wild and wonderful wilderness that is the real Donana, its either a guided tour on one of big wheeled 'unimogs' or a 40k trek along dusty tracks beyond Villamanrique and Isla Mayor towards the Jose Antonio Valverde Centre, and unless you know the right roads its potentially vehicle damaging but once there you get everything you would on one of the guided tours.

Donana, nr the Jose Antonia Valverde centre

Donana, nr the Jose Antonia Valverde centre

In truth, and this is no excuse for slightly dodgy pics, this wasn't photography heaven. The distances are huge, many birds are distant and heat haze never helps. I was lucky enough to see a Spanish Imperial Eagle from El Rocio, perched on the top a Eucalyptus tree about 2 kilometres away (it was too much of a 'blob' to even attempt a picture!)

Lesser Kestrel, Donana, 9th March 2015
Many more birds about away from El Rocio though ... Lesser Kestrels (including a flock of  22 around an old abandoned farm building), all the waders, all the other raptors, Black and White Storks, Night Herons, Bluethroats and just a sense of being in a really wild place! The Lesser Kestrels were just great to see, so different in their behaviour than Common Kestrels its a wonder they're so commonly confused! Just a shame there was so much heat haze around ... kinda knocked my focus out of kilter!

I knew they hang around in flocks but still strange to see 20 or so come out of one building! They're also migratory so these must be recent arrivals.

Lesser Kestrel, Donana, 9th March 2015

Lesser Kestrel, Donana, 9th March 2015


Spanish Horsemen, Donana
Not sure if these guys were local police or reserve wardens but they came splashing through the water and then ambled right past me casting me imperious looks from on top of there lofty beasts!

Black Stork, Donana, 9th March 2015
In amongst 25ish White Storks there was just one Black Stork ... they winter here and this one is most probably on its way back.

Here's a few more pics from around the Jose Antonio Valverde Centre and if you ever visit Donana this is definitely the place to head for if you want a taste of the real thing; like I said its 'out in the sticks' and tricky to access unless you know the right tracks but so worth it. Here's a few more pics from the area....

Singing Bluethroat, Donana, 9th March 2015

Cattle Egret, Donana

Night Herons behind the Bombeo pumping station, Donana

Spanish Sparrows, Donana
Update March 19th
I've now been joined by my mate Mark and we're currently across in Portugal checking out Tavira and the Castro Marim areas before heading back into Spain to do San Lucar, Bonanza and then up into Extramudura. New birds for the trip recently added have been Common Scoter, Bar Tailed Godwit and a smashing male Montagues Harrier over the motorway as I was driving to Faro.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

100s of Eagles & Kites crossing the Straits of Gibraltar,scorching hot around Barbate, a rare Vulture and Spanish Festoons

Its been a long journey and sometimes I wonder just why I'm putting myself out here. Hardships? Not many, I have everything I need to keep body and soul together. Its been a bit lonely and I'm travel weary but that goes with the territory when you're traversing foreign lands looking for wildlife. I think ... I probably think too much! In a matter of weeks I'll be back in the fray, doing a job I love, seeing my family again and making music again with my various musical amigos and, for the last 2 weeks of my trip my best mate Mark is popping over for a share of the migration spoils, so plenty to look forward to.

Meanwhile I'm at the southernmost tip of Europe and witnessing the annual migration of returning birds from Africa and I'm perfectly positioned!

....and when the winds are right and you're in the right place at the right time it all becomes obvious why I put myself out there....

timbobagginsabroad, spain 2015
Short Toed Eagle, over the straits of Gibralter, 2nd March 2015
These are just 2 of about 150 Short Toed Eagles that decided to sail over the Straits of Gibralter whilst I was having a 'cafĂ© con leche' on the sea front at Getares. Bloody good job I had my camera to hand!

Short Toed Eagle, over the straits of Gibralter, 2nd March 2015
Proper eagles are Short Toed .. don't they just look the part in every way?  In their wake came scores of Black Kites, the odd Booted Eagle and several Common Buzzards.

Black Kite over the sea at Carnero, Nr Gibralter

Black Kites in formation!

Gibralter from Punta Carnero, 2/03/15
Egyptian Vulture, Tarifa, 2nd March 2015
All it took was a slight shift in the wind to WSW and they were over. Earlier in the day, before the temperature rose and mist was still hanging over the mountains, I was up one of the high valleys behind Tarifa. There had been a modest passage of Barn Swallows, Chaffinches and Griffon Vultures then a medium sized raptor I first took to be a Booted Eagle floated by - it was some distance off and the light was poor, but I took some record shots anyway. Good job - turned out to be an Egyptian Vulture! A scarce bird anywhere in Spain these days.

Egyptian Vulture, Tarifa, 2nd March 2015

Alpine Swift, Tarifa, 2nd March 2015
In the same few moments I also had a Black Stork and 70 other distant storks that were probably White and then out of the mist an Alpine Swift decided to speed by. It was nearly past me by the time I got my camera on it but reckoned any shot would be worthwhile.

Awesome bird to have coming straight at you out of the mist of a mountain I can tell you! Twice as big as our Common Swifts with a wing span of nearly 60cm no wonder I thought it was a Peregrine coming at me at first!

Black Stork, Tarifa, 2nd March 2015


An estimated half a billion birds migrate across this narrow stretch of water from Africa every Spring and to see just a fraction of those, whether that's a sky full of Eagles and Kites, estuaries full of waders or solitary wanderers, is totally fascinating to me and for many birders and wildlife watchers alike 'migration time' is why we get up at the crack of dawn, brave the elements and go up and down tracks and paths most sensible people would frown at!

March 2nd, that was some day, the best so far for migration. I also had 3 Booted Eagles, 6 Common Buzzard, a single Pallid Swift and several hundred Barn Swallows all drifting North.

A couple of days later in windless and 25c heat I had 11 more Pallid Swifts north very high up and an equally high and passing male Marsh Harrier.

High flying migrating Marsh Harrier, nr Manzanete, 4/03/15

There was a nice male Northern Wheatear at Barbate along with 10 or so Caspian Terns and the usual common waders, whilst at a very dry Le Janda I had the biggest flock of Calandra Larks I've ever seen (about 70 in one field) and another new migrant a single Purple Heron in amongst the Greys.

 Chiffchaffs and Blackcaps have been singing purposefully now for the past week or so and there are new butterflies and flowers emerging each and every day.

Northern Wheatear, Barbate, 4th March 2015

Purple Heron, Le Janda, 4th March 2015
This little Owl brought some amusement, to us both by the looks of things, on a very hot day around Barbate....

Little Owl, nr Barbate

Little Owl, nr Barbate

Wall Brown, Barbate, 4/03/15

I'm beginning to notice Chiffchaffs and Blackcaps singing now and there are new butterflies and flowers emerging each and every day.

The Spanish Festoons were gorgeous little things I'd never seen before, hardly surprising I suppose - the last time I was in Spain in the spring I wasn't that bothered about butterflies or flowers come to that.

There was a Swallowtail butterfly in the same vicinity too but it eluded my lens!
Spanish Festoon, Barbate, 04/03/15

unidentified shrub sp, nr Barbate

I don't know what this shrub is but its beautiful and seems to drape itself around the many stands of Prickly Pear cacti that in turn attracts many wasps and flies and the odd Grasshopper! I'm no expert on these things but thinking just a common Field Grasshopper?

Grasshopper species, Barbate

On the evening of the 4th March some more very strong winds sprung up, blowing this time from the East and forecast that way for the next 4 days with gusts of up to 70mph! Time for me to head off to a calmer area of Spain ... I'm off to Donana!