Friday, 29 August 2014

A morning at San Pedro salinas.

Yesterday morning (Thursday, 28th August) I was all set for another morning in the office, when I received a ‘whatsapp’ that changed all my plans.  It was from a friend Paul, another ‘guirri’ birder who lives just south of Cartagena.  He was at the Salinas at San Pedro del Pinatar, and had just discovered a bird that I was particularly keen to see – a Red-necked Phalarope.  This is a species that is still considered a rarity here in Spain although I think that might soon change as they are now seen annually, normally at the delta del Ebro or in Cadiz, but the Salinas at San Pedro have also had their fair share, although last year there were none.  They are normally seen at any time from mid July to the end of November, the early birds being adults that sometimes stay around quite a while to moult.

I zoomed over there just as fast as my old jalopy could carry me, and met up with Paul at around 10-30.  The Phalarope was the first bird that could be seen, very close in and not at all bothered by the presence of humans or the continuous noise of traffic, although every time a lorry went past, it took fright and flew a few metres, but then returned to the same place.  It was a young bird, and thinking about it, its lack of fear of humans could well be because we were the first ones it had seen, having been born in the arctic.  I stayed quite a while, and had a little look around the rest of the Salinas.  There had definitely been some sort of arrival of waders, as there were quite a few Curlew Sandpipers, Dunlin, Little Stints, Redshanks and Spotted Redshanks about, and in the last lagoon on the left (which abuts to the carpark), many Sanderling and a few Ringed Plovers, plus more Dunlin and Little Stints.

The wonderful thing about being there on a weekday morning is the lack of people bothering the birds, so some of them were most obliging when it came to taking photos.  Here a selection of the photos I took.

 A bird to put a smile on your face - Red-necked Phalarope

And a few more photos!

Here with a Dunlin in full breeding plumage ...

... and here with an adult Curlew Sandpiper

The Dunlin was quite keen on the area ...

... even though at one stage it got stuck in the mud!

A Common Redshank that dropped into the bay ...

... as did a few Curlew Sandpipers

On the edge of the next lagoon, a Little Stint was feeding (adult moulting into winter plumage) ...

 ... and a couple of Spotted Redshank and Black Winged Stilts were hanging around ...

 ... sometimes looking like giant phalaropes swimming in the water ...

... and away we go ...

... flushed by this Little Egret

Leaving the Salinas at around 1pm, on my way back to Los Belones, I called in at the farm reservoirs near San Javier airport to see how the Black Terns were doing.  I counted approximately 30 of them (difficult to tell exactly, as they tend to get up in the air at the first sight of someone, and some fly around the other lagoons while others head off, presumably for San Pedro).  The only other birds of note there were a couple of Little Ringed Plovers.


Saturday, 23 August 2014

An Evening ringing in San Pedro del Pinatar

Last week I was invited by Angel Sallent of the ANSE (Asociación de Naturalistas del Sureste) ringing group to participate in a wader ringing exercise at the ‘encañizadas’ – the area of shallow water between the end of La Manga and San Pedro Salinas, and so on Friday (22nd August) I made may way up to San Pedro del Pinatar, arriving at about 6 pm.  I got there a little early so as to have a quick look at the Salinas themselves, but apart from a lot of cars and people, there wasn’t a lot to be seen, the best birds being a group of 6 Ruff and a single Little Stint. ‘Doesn’t bode well for wader ringing’ I thought!

 A couple of the Ruff seen

 Fishing like crazy, a young Little Tern

 An adult Little Stint, the only small wader seen apart from Kentish Plovers

The arrangements were to meet at the ‘La Mota’ windmill at 7 pm, and then walk with all the gear to the marshes at the ‘encañizadas’ – a walk of about 4km, and although getting late in the day, the temperature would still be more than 25ºC.  Setting off at 7 was delayed due to no-one being able to find anywhere nearby to park, and I declined the idea of walking down there, and got out of the garage and dusted down my old folding bike, and cycled the 4 km, stopping off here and there when there were any birds to be seen (which wasn’t often).  One thing that surprised me, was that the large group of Black-necked Grebes that has always gathered in the lagoons there in past years, just wasn’t there – I only saw two birds – I suppose that now with all the disturbance from ‘mud-bathers’, they prefer the peace and quiet of the local sewage farms – the July count at the EDAR Beaza (Cartagena) was more than 1,500 birds, a record for there.
The only other birds of interest on the way down were a few (around 6) Dunlin, all adults still in breeding plumage.

 Black-necked Grebe - one of only two seen on the way down to the Encañizadas

Arriving at what was going to be our ‘base’ for the evening, while the mist nets were erected (one group of 3 13metre nets and another of 5), I waited guarding our ‘base camp’, and I was quite amazed by the movement of birds during the last hour of light of day.  There was a constant stream of Black Terns heading south (in the last hour of light I counted a minimum of 180 birds in small groups), plus a group of 13 Common Sandpipers, and various Curlew Sandpipers, Dunlin, Black-tailed Godwits and Grey Herons .  The people putting up the nets also had a small group of 5 Oystercatchers while putting up the nets, although I didn’t see them myself.  There was also a constant ‘murmur’ of Greenshanks, Redshanks and Ringed Plovers.

 While others were putting up the nets, I had a constant movement of Black Terns overhead

Sunset from the 'encañizadas'

Anyone who has been involved with wader ringing with mist-nets will know that it is a hit-or-miss affair – waders in general having very good eyesight and hearing, so ringing tends to take place on moonless nights without wind.  I myself in my youth have done a fair amount of wader ringing, but generally in tidal areas where you set the nets and wait for the tide to move the waders around.  This obviously doesn’t happen in the Mediterranean as there are no tides, so it is pretty much a matter of luck to catch the birds – they can be wandering around literally under the nets but unless they are flying they won’t be caught.  Friday was the last night of three consecutive nights of ringing: on the first night no birds were caught; the second night 17 including Little and Common Terns, Dunlin and Curlew Sandpipers.  In the end, Friday nights catch was of only two birds – an adult Sanderling  caught on the first net round, and a Sandwich Tern at around midnight, but the Sandwich Tern was worth its weight in gold, as it was already ringed and had a Brussels (Belgium) ring on it.

 Ringing the first bird, a Sanderling



 The second bird caught didn't need a ring - it already had one!

 Belgian ringed Sandwich Tern

Finally giving up at around 2am, I finally got home just before 4 in the morning, and spent the next day recovering!


Wednesday, 20 August 2014

A morning in the interior of Murcia.

The 15th August is a public holiday here in Spain, so last Friday despite the hot weather, I decided another trip to the interior of Murcia was in order, so 6-45 saw me setting off together with Mick Brewer on another attempt to find Trumpeter Finches north west of Murcia city.  We arrived at a spot where I have seen them in the past at 8-30, and started looking.  First we had to find water as the site is a drinking pool.  Here we had a major problem – the river had dried up completely, and there were no pools of water!  Things didn’t bode well, and in the end we didn’t hear or see the birds in question, although we did have Black-eared Wheatear, Sparrowhawk, a pair of adult Bonelli’s Eagles, Crested Tits, Woodchat Shrike, Crag Martins, Dartford Warbler, Long-tailed Tit and Red-rumped Swallow.  We hung around the area for about an hour, but in the end decided to give up and make the most of being out in that area by calling into the nearby Campotejar sewage farm (EDAR Molina de Segura).

A record shot of one of the Bonelli's Eagles

Arriving at Campotejar at 10 o´clock, we had no sooner pulled in through the gates when we heard the distinctive song and call of Golden Orioles.  As there was no-one else around, we stopped there and spent half an hour getting various glimpses of Golden Orioles, including at least two males.
Around the first lagoon as you enter, there were also a few Squacco Herons at the edges of the reeds (in the end we saw a total of 12), plus a couple of Night Herons, Little Egrets and two Purple Gallinules. There was also a Little Bittern that I DIDN’T see until downloading record shots of Purple Gallinule on my computer, although we did see another female or immature briefly.

 To the left, a Squacco Heron hiding in the reeds, and Night Heron on the right

 Bottom left, Purple Gallinule, and top right, Little Bittern

 And just to prove Purple Gallinules ARE capable of flight!

 The couple of Night Herons

 Some of the total of 12 Squacco Herons seen ...

 ... and some more

Other birds seen in our couple of hours around the lagoons were at least 2 Kingfishers, a female Marsh Harrier, Common Sandpipers, Greenshank, Little Ringed Plovers, 16 Whiskered Terns (mainly adults in moult), Hoopoes, Serins, Reed Warblers, Little Grebes, a single Great Crested Grebe, many Pochards, White-headed Ducks and Mallard.  On our way out from Campotejar, the Golden Orioles were still calling from some trees, and we finally managed to get some good, if distant views, of a male through the ‘scopes.

Leaving the reserve, one of at least 4 Golden Orioles seen

Now on our way back to the Mar Menor, we called in briefly at the Salinas of San Pedro, although by now there were a lot of people here walking, cycling and generally scaring any birds around, and we only saw distant Flamingos, a couple of adult Curlew Sandpipers in moult, a male Ruff now in its winter plumage, 4 Black Terns and a few ‘flava’ wagtails.

Our last stop was at some farm reservoirs close to San Javier airport where we could see Black Terns much closer.  We had about 20 here, mainly adults moulting into their winter plumage, and also a couple of Little Ringed Plovers still hanging around, and we arrived back at home around 2pm.  A good few hours seeing a good mix of species even if we didn’t see the main birds we were looking for!

 Photos actually taken a day later, of some of the Black Terns in San Javier