Monday, 25 February 2013

25th February 2013 - Mar Menor roundup

Hi all,

The past week has been notable for the cold and windy but sunny weather, with winds predominantly from the NW, which has presumably held up any migration.  After the first few summer migrants in my last report last week, there has been very little new movement.

On a national scale, Common Cranes (and a report of a Sandhill Crane) and geese have been moving north from their wintering locations in the south and west of Spain (do they know what they're letting themselves in for?), and the only movement of oncoming visitors has been a sprinkling of Great Spotted Cuckoos over the last weekend, one of which got as close as the 'Saladares del Guadalentín', Alhama de Murcia (thanks to Paul Sparkes for the report).

Otherwise, things have been pretty much 'as was'.  On a rare still, misty day on Sunday the 17th, I took a walk along the Mar Menor between Los Nietos and Los Urrutias, searching for the Richard's Pipit which I still hadn't seen this year yet.  As it was damp and foggy over the sea, there were neither kite-surfers nor fishermen along the shoreline, which allowed a group of 22 Red-breasted Mergansers come in and settle.  Made up of 2 males and 20 females, it's the largest group I've seen this winter, so I watched them until a jet-ski flushed them off.

Record shot of the group of 22 Red-breasted Mergansers that dropped in
I carried on looking for the Richard's Pipit, which I finally heard, and then saw (it's always in that order!).

Another record shot - this time of the Richard's Pipit

After the walk, I called in briefly to the sailing club 'club nautico' at Los Urrutias.  It was very quiet there with just a couple of egrets (Great White and Little) and a breeding plumage 'punk' Cormorant.

You get a good idea of size difference between Great White and Little Egret with this photo

Moving on past Los Urrutias/Punta Brava, I stopped off and saw both groups of Scoter that have been around for the last month or so.

 Record shot of Common Scoter seen in the mist - their facial pattern is just about viewable

Record shot of part of the group of Velvet Scoter
- at least you can see the white in the wings of one of them!
Later the same day, after going over to Calblanque with the vain intention of reading Audouins' colour rings (they'd put themselves right in the middle of the salinas, and I managed to read a few rings, but most were too far away), on the way out I was surprised to see a black bird on top of a disused electricity pylon.  As there's been a recent report of a Rook around Cartagena, I thought I'd stop for a look.  Well it wasn't a Rook, but a Chough and was joined by another.  Quite a surprising sighting for the area, although not unprecedented.

On a 'grey day' the only thing that stands out is the curved red bill

Other winter birds still about are the Common Gull (adult) in amongst the Audouin's Gulls (of which there were 416 on Saturday, 23rd) at the salinas de Rasall, Calblanque (Los Belones, Cartagena); 7 Common Scoter in the Mar Menor, two of which are now showing to be males (normally viewable from the shore of the Mar Menor at km.8 on the F-34, just west of Los Urrutias/Punta Brava (Cartagena)); the Red-throated Diver has also been seen from the same viewpoint up until Wednesday the 20th.  I looked for it over the weekend but couldn't find it - this doesn't mean it's not there as the waves were quite high in the winds, and as you're viewing from sea-level, it's not always easy to see.  However, as there seems to have been a departure of a large number of the Great Crested Grebes (of which there were over 600 counted the previous weekend), it could have attached itself to their group and headed off north.

 Part of the group of over 400 Audouin's Gulls - hard to think they were once on the brink of extinction

Also from the same watchpoint on Saturday I had two Great White Egrets fly over me - was it only 5 years ago that they were considered a local rarity!  Now in the winter it's rare NOT to see them somewhere along the beach from Los Urrutias to the 'desembocadura de la rambla de Albujon' (the corner where the Albujon river meets the Mar Menor).

 One of the two Great White Egrets that flew overhead

Talking of the rambla, the group of 6 Velvet Scoter are sometimes here where they show well, if distant.  As mentioned before, they can sometimes be seen from the shore at km.8 on the F-34, but if they're not there it's worth trying looking from the banks of the rambla (park at Km. 7 of the F-34, and from the shore look towards the Los Alcazares sailing club across the water.  They're normally in that corner).  Two of them are now showing to be males, with yellow/orange on their bills.

In the rambla itself, there are still Common Snipe and Green Sandpipers (but I haven't seen any Jack Snipe there recently), a single Ruff, Water Pipits and Water Rail, Reed Buntings and  Grey Wagtail.

The 'marina de Carmoli' (the large area opposite the lay-by at km.8 on the F-34) has been interesting of late because of the roost of harriers there.  I've spent a few evenings this last week waiting for them to appear and have been rewarded with sightings of at least 7 Marsh Harriers (with at least two males); two ringtail Hen Harriers and the overwintering first winter Pallid Harrier, of which I managed to get some record photos on Saturday evening just before the sun went down.

Although dark, these three record shots of the 1st winter Pallid Harrier show the diagnostic features
-head pattern; wide secondaries & narrow wingpoint; 'boomerang' around the carpal joint 

On sunday evening I went back down there, but only saw Marsh Harriers (being seriously harrassed by Yellow-legged Gulls) and a single 'ringtail' Hen Harrier, although as I left at ten to seven, I noticed what appeared to be a small harrier at the other end of the 'marina'.  I was in the car though, with the heater on, so I didn't stop to investigate (it was getting dark anyway).

 The gulls just wouldn't leave the harriers alone
- note this one defending itself by turning upside down, talons out
 Maybe this is why they're normally only seen in the evening... chance of getting a bite to eat when you're continually harassed!

And that's about it for what's about locally.  Hopefully the wind will soon go round to south and I expect we'll have a real rush of migrants in.

Talking of migrants coming in, some of you know that over the past few years I've spent some considerable time checking the area around the Cabo de Palos lighthouse in spring.  I always promised that at some time I'd do a report on the birds seen there, and I've finally done it.  Because of size constraints, I can't put in into this blog, so I've made it into a '.pdf ' file, so any of you who are interested in what you can see when at the lighthouse, follow this link:

(For this you need adobe reader)

That's all for now folks!!

Monday, 18 February 2013

Saturday 16th February - Sierra Espuña

Having heard what had been seen in Sierra Espuña last weekend while I was around Inazares, I though that a visit to Sierra Espuña was in order, so on saturday morning, I set off for Alhama.  Arriving there at just before 10 am., there was a lot of mist, and knowing it would be even worse on top of Espuña, I decided to make a detour via the EDAR (sewage farm) of Alhama while I waited for the mist to burn off.

This EDAR is in the industrial estate before you get to the main A-7 motorway when coming from Cartagena, and is one that I have only recently discovered.  Apart from the sewage farm itself, there are two reed fringed pools which have a good variety of ducks (and I would presume waders in the appropriate season).  Since I last visited, a hide has been erected overlooking on of the pools - unfortunately this appears to be the shallower of the two as the only birds in the pool were a group of 14 Black Winged Stilts, with a few Coots and Moorhens in the reeds.

 View across the northernmost pool

 The new hide - I think I was the first to use it!

 Location of the new hide

The other pool was much busier though, with 14 Little Grebes trilling away, a pair of Black-necked Grebes (it'll be interesting to see if they stay), Pochard,  Shoveler, White Headed Ducks and Mallard, and in the surrounding reeds a single Purple Gallinule (Swamphen), Reed Buntings, Blackcaps, Cetti's Warblers and Chiffchaffs.

 Male White-headed Duck

 Typical view across the southernmost pool

Along the reed fringe, a Purple Gallinule (Swamphen)
In the reeds were various Chiffchaffs
Overhead was a group of hirundines, which turned out to be about 30 Crag Martins, 20 House Martins and a couple of Swallows.

I stayed about an hour, and then set back off for Espuña.  I'd forgotten how popular the area is for cyclists, and so it took me over an hour to get from here to the top of Espuña (the area around the radar station).  As I was driving the last part of the journey, from the 'pozos de la nieve*' carpark up to the top, I flushed two birds from the side of the road, which flew off calling - 2 Alpine Accentors.  Parking up, I wandered around the rocks there trying to refind them, but had no luck whatsoever - the problem with the top there is that it is a military restricted area with no access to the very top where the accentors probably went.  I hung around for about an hour and a half searching for them but they were nowhere to be seen, and the only birds I did see were a pair of Coal Tits and a single Chaffinch!
 View looking up to the top of Sierra Espuña
 At the top, typical Alpine Accentor country

One of the few birds seen, Coal Tit

Having had enough of seeing nothing, I went back down to the 'pozos de la nieve' and walked round to the 'Pozos de Nieve de Murcia*' (the ones that have NOT been reformed).  On my way down from the very top, I could hear numbers of thrushes and Ring Ouzels from the car, and on my walk to the 'pozos' there were obviously a lot more here.  Before getting to the meadow where the 'pozos' are, you have to walk through a pine area, and this was absolutely alive with thrushes, flying from one side of the track to the other.  I rapidly saw a few Redwings amongst them, with some actually on the track itself, and I could hear Fieldfares as well, and eventually I saw one fly across the track.

On the track leading down to the 'pozos', a Redwing

Going down to the farthest 'pozo' where there is always a small pool of water with some rose bushes around it, I got myself into the shade to see what I could see.  And it was a lot - there were Ring Ouzels everywhere with a smattering of Blackbirds, Redwings and Mistle Thrushes.  I also had a pair of Cirl Buntings (which I think must nest somewhere nearby as I often see them when I come up here), Greenfinches, a single male Rock Bunting, Coal and Great Tits, and in the background I heard at least a couple of Jays.

 Perched on the remains of one of the pozos, a female Cirl Bunting

At the bottom of the hill, a pine tree with Mistle Thrush and Ring Ouzel
 In the wild rose bushes, various birds dropped in - here a Redwing...

 ... a Ring Ouzel...
 ... another Redwing...

 ... and another Ring Ouzel...

 ... Greenfinch and Rock Bunting...

 ... yet another Ring Ouzel...
 ... two Redwings with a Ring Ouzel landing in the background...

 ... yet another Ring Ouzel...

 ...and another Redwing...

 ... two more Ring Ouzels...

 ... another three Ring Ouzels...

 ... and yet another trio!  Phew, just how many were there altogether - at least 30!

I stayed there for a couple of hours watching all the thrushes rushing about, until some hikers came up the hill, noisy as always, and flushed everything away.  I stayed for a while longer in case the thrushes came back, but they didn't, so I eventually decided to call it a day up there, and headed on for home.

I got back to my home area and there was still enough light to have a look over the Mar Menor, so I stopped at the layby opposite the 'marina de Carmoli' (km.8 on the F-34).  From here there was a mass of Great Crested Grebes (I counted 147) plus at least 40 Black-necked Grebes and almost on the horizon I located the Red-throted Diver that has been here for a while now.

I also had a quick look as the sun was setting over the 'marina' itself where there were at least 7 Marsh Harriers doing some last light hunting, but unlike the previous night, there ws no sign of either Hen or Pallid Harriers.

* Pozos de nieve - These are deep holes in the ground, covered by bee-hive looking rock structures, that were used to create ice.  Snow was shovelled into the wells in winter, which under its own weight formed ice.  This was then removed by mules to either Murcia or the port at Cartagena.  For more details see:

Birds seen/heard during the day:
Red-throated Diver - (Gavia stellata) - Colimbo chico
Little Grebe  - (Tachybaptus ruficollis)  - Zampullín común
Black-necked Grebe - (Podiceps nigricollis) - Zampullín cuellinegro
Great Crested Grebe - (Podiceps cristatus) - Somormujo lavanco
Cormorant - (Phalacrocorax carbo) - Cormorán grande
Mallard - (Anas platyrhynchos) - Ánade azulón
Shoveler - (Anas clypeata) - Cuchara común
Pochard - (Aythya ferina) - Porrón europea
White-headed Duck - (Oxyura leucocephala) - Malvasía cabeciblanca
Marsh Harrier - (Circus aeruginosus) - Aguilucho lagunero
Purple Gallinule (Swamphen) - (Porphyrio porphyrio) - Calamón común
Coot - (Fulica atra) - Focha común
Moorhen - (Gallinula chloropus) - Gallineta común
Black Winged Stilt - (Himantopus himantopus) - Cigüeñuela
Yellow-legged Gull - (Larus michahellis) - Gaviota patiamarilla
Slender-billed Gull - (Larus genei) - Gaviota picofina
Woodpigeon - (Columba palumbus) - Paloma torcaz
Collared Dove - (Streptopelia decaocto) - Tórtula turca
Swallow - (Hirundo rustica) - Golondrina común
House Martin - (Delichon urbicum) - Avión común
Crag Martin - (Ptyonoprogne rupestris) - Avión roquero
White Wagtail - (Motacilla alba alba) - Lavandera blanca
Robin - (Erithacus rubecula) - Petirrojo europeo
Black Redstart - (Phoenicurus ochruros) - Colirrojo tizón
Stonechat - (Saxicola torquatus) - Tarabilla común
Ring Ouzel - (Turdus torquatus) - Mirlo capiblanco
Blackbird - (Turdus merula) - Mirlo común
Fieldfare - (Turdus pilaris) - Zorzal real

Songthrush - (Turdus philomelos) - Zorzal común
Redwing - (Turdus iliacus) - Zorzal alirrojo
Mistle Thrush - (Turdus viscivorus) - Zorzal charlo
Cetti's Warbler - (Cettia cetti) - Ruiseñor bastardo

Blackcap - (Sylvia atricapilla) - Curruca capirotada
Chiffchaff - (Phylloscopus collybita) - Mosquitero común
Great Tit - (Parus major) - Carbonero común
Coal Tit - (Parus ater) - Carbonero garrapinos
Southern Grey Shrike - (Lanius meridionalis) - Alcaudón real
Jay - (Garrulus glandarius) - Arrendajo
Spotless Starling - (Sturnus unicolor) - Estornino negro
House Sparrow - (Passer domesticus) - Gorrión común
Chaffinch - (Fringilla coelebs) - Pinzón vulgar
Serin - (Serinus serinus) - Verdecillo
Greenfinch - (Chloris chloris) - Verderón
Goldfinch - (Carduelis carduelis) - Jilguero
Reed Bunting - (Emberiza schoeniclus) - Escribano palustre
Cirl Bunting - (Emberiza cirlus) - Escribano soteño
Rock Bunting - (Emberiza cia) - Escribano montesino

Mar Menor roundup addenda

Hi all!

A quick note to add to the last roundup.  In the afternoon of Thursday 14th February, I did a small tour around the west end of the Mar Menor, seeing 7 Common Scoter from the 'marina de Carmoli' and went on to the 'Rambla de Albujon', where some friends were ringing Common Snipe (apart from ringing them, they were placing lightweight 'locators' on their legs, so that in the hope that some are recaptured next year, by downloading the data from the locators, it will be possible to find out where they have spent the interveening time).  Apart from the Snipe, they also caught a single Green Sandpiper and a male Ruff, possibly the first Ruff ever ringed in the region of Murcia.  While we were at the ringing site chatting, what should fly over us but the immature Pallid Harrier that was seen last month (and possibly in December as well)!  It headed off to the 'marina de Carmoli', so I headed over there as well and saw it flying distantly just before it got dark.

In the afternoon of friday, 15th February, we had the monthly waterbird census at the EDAR (sewage farm) at Cabeza Beaza (Cartagena).  There was nothing too out of the ordinary there but we did see good numbers of Shoveler (356) and Pochard (122), and 4 House Martins and 5 Swallows.

View at the EDAR Beaza, photo taken at the water outfall
Later, we called by the Mar Menor opposite the marina de Carmoli, where we saw 9 Common Scoter and the Red-throated Diver again (and me saying that I thought it had gone!).  At last light in the marina de Carmoli itself, apart from at least 4 Marsh Harriers, we had 2 ringtail Hen Harriers flying around together, to be joined by the ringtail Pallid Harrier!  Quite a sight!

Thursday, 14 February 2013

14th February 2013 - Mar Menor area roundup

Hi all!

This is a local roundup covering the period 8th to 13th February.

On Friday the 8th in the morning, I went down to the now famous layby at km.8 on the F-34 (just west of Punta Brava/Las Urrutias).  En route, just outside Los Nietos I had 2 Magpie fly across the road.  This may seem like nothing exceptional, especially as I suspect they now breed in the 'marina de Carmoli', but apart from one seen once at the Cabo de Palos lighthouse garden, this was my most easterly sighting.  They seem to be slowly but surely moving further and further east.

On the shore of the Mar Menor in this area, there were relatively quite a few waders - 3 Curlew, 8 Turnstone, 2 Grey Plover, 2 Ringed Plover, plus the ever present Little Egret and a couple (pair?) of Slender-billed Gulls, and on the Mar Menor itself were Great Crested Grebes, Black-necked Grebes, Cormorant, Mallard, Shelduck, Common Scoter and possibly a single Velvet Scoter, and the Red-throated Diver was still present.

While I was there there was a constant stream of Crag Martins flying east to west along the shore, and in amongst them were a small group of three Swallows and a single House Martin.

On Sunday the 10th, also in the morning, at the same place, a single Booted Eagle (pale phase) was flying around, and on the sea, a group of 9 Common Scoter, Black-necked and Great Crested Grebes and the Red-throated Diver, but no sign of any Velvet Scoter.

In relatively calm water before the wind got up, the Red-throated Diver was showing well

I moved on from here to the rambla de Albujon, where interesting birds were 3 Little Egrets and a Great White Egret, 6 Black Winged Stilts, 2 Green Sandpipers, another Magpie, and while talking on the N-332 bridge over the rambla, a Water Rail ambled along the rambla itself, out in the open, towards the bridge.  As always though, setting up my camera should it come any closer, it dived into the reeds never to be seen again!

 Great White Egret with its cousin, the Little Egret
Time to go!

On Monday the 11th in the afternoon, yet another visit to the same place along the Mar Menor.  This time it was quite windy and waves high enough to hide any ducks.  I did eventually see a group of 9 Common Scoter plus Great Crested and Black Necked Grebes, but there was no sign of the Diver.

Calling in briefly at the EDAR El Algar, I noticed that a pile of earth had been dumped across the road just after the gates to the EDAR itself - I wonder if this is to deter birdwatchers going up to the reservoirs at the end - and the gates of the EDAR were wide open although I couldn't see anyone in there working.

My last call was to Calblanque where I hoped to read some colour rings on Audouins Gulls.  En route to the salinas I had a very nice male Rock Bunting, but at the salinas themselves, there had obviously been some water pumped in as the further lagoons were full, and all the Audouins were on the walls of these lagoons, directly in the sun and too far for me to get any readings.

As it was still quite breezy, I thought I'd do a half hour or so's seawatch at the far end of Calblanque, and this worked out to be very worthwhile, with half a dozen Gannets, 3 Cory's and 3 Balearic Shearwaters and most surprising of all, 7 Mediterranean Gulls (all adults) all flying east with the wind, and reasonably close in.  Closer to where I was sitting was a Thekla Lark and Black Wheatear.  On my way back, I surprised a Kestrel that was struggling with a small rat, trying to carry it off.

 The wind was quite good for a short seawatch - here an adult Gannet
 While seawatching I had a couple of smaller birds around me - here a Black Wheatear...

 ... and here a Thekla Lark
 As you can see from this, the wind was moving the Med. a bit!

 On my way out of Calblanque, I came across this Kestrel with its prey

On Wednesday the 13th, in the early afternoon, I called into the 'Club Nautico' area of Los Urrutias.  The water level here is now very low, and between the shore and club nautico itself is almost a carpet of algae.  On this 'carpet' were groups on Ringed Plovers and Slender-billed Gulls plus a Little Egret, while at the edge of the algae the winter resident Great White Egret was fishing.

At the km.8 on the F-34 again afterwards, with the Mar Menor calmer at last, the group of 9 Common Scoter were being chased around by kite-surfers, and also on the water were 22 Great Crested Grebes and 6 Black Necked Grebes.  Apart from this, all was quiet.

I was going to go on to the Rambla de Albujon from here - however in the parking area there was only one car with suspicious looking characters in it, so I decided I didn't want to risk leaving the car for an hour or so, so I went over to Calblanque again.  This time, as it was warmer and calmer, I walked around the back of the salinas in order to read some Audouin's rings, and was very surprised to see an Osprey sat on a post there.  When it saw me it was off, but I did manage to snap a quick photo as it made it's way off towards the Med. and then on west towards Portman.  I counted around 200 Audouins Gulls (but only managed to read 5 rings) and with them were a couple of adult Lesser Black-backed Gulls (not common around here) and 10 or so Yellow-legged Gulls.  Other birds of interest seen here were Black Wheatear, Little Owl, Dartford and Sardinian Warbler, Stonechat, Songthrush, Rock Dove, Shelduck, Mallard, Hoopoe and Common Buzzard, and I heard Green Woodpecker.  Also while walking around the back of the salinas I saw a couple of Rabbits and a single Iberian Hare.

 On a warmer, calmer day today, this Thekla Lark was up there giving it's all

 One of the adult Audouins's Gulls coming in from the Med. to the salinas
 One of a couple of pairs of Little Owls in Calblanque

The surprise of the day - this Osprey that was sitting on a post in the middle of the salinas
And that's all for now.  With warm southerly winds forecast for this weekend, there should be plenty to see.
Good birding!