Monday, 4 May 2015

A long weekend, so time for a road-trip!

Hi all,

This weekend, in order to get away from the Mayday village fiestas and all that that entails, I decided to have a look on Saturday at the area to the extreme Northwest of the region, around Cañada de la Cruz.  I normally have a look around this area earlier in the year, and in fact I had already been here once this year towards the end of January with Mick Brewer, but we had been unable to do all the exploring we wanted due to a recent heavy snowfall.  So, I was going to have another try. I was quite impressed as to how green everything looked, and at the sides of the narrow road leading up there from Cañada de la Cruz, there were still pools of snow-melt water.  In fact it seemed quite strange to be somewhere with the temperature at around the 35ºC mark, and at the same time to be able to look over towards the Sierra Nevada in neighbouring Granada province, and see snow on the tops there.

 Once past Caravaca de la Cruz, the views are almost alpine
 Driving up past Cañada de la Cruz, even more so - although the white is not snow, just the colour of the rock

And some of the views from the top of the road
On my way, I made a couple of rapid stops to try to get photos of a Short-toed Eagle and Black-eared Wheatear I noticed on the roadside – a yes for the Eagle, but not for the Wheatear which was just a bit too quick!

 Missed the Black-eared Wheatear, but got this Short-toed Eagle that floated around for a while

Diving up beyond Cañada de la Cruz, every bush seemed to have
 either a Corn Bunting or Crested Lark posed on it
My first scheduled stop was a wooded area on the way up to the end of the road after going through Cañada de la Cruz, where in the past I have been lucky with the birds I was particularly looking for.  And this time too, things worked out, as I could hear one of my target species singing away as I stopped the engine – a Nuthatch.  Also there were several Blue Tits, another target species which surprisingly are very difficult to find near the coast (Crested Tits, no problem, but Blue Tits a distinct rarity!).  And in the distance I could hear another of my target species singing away, Woodlark.  Well I managed to find both the Nuthatch and Blue Tit, but had no such luck with the Woodlark.  Meanwhile, Nightingales seemed to be singing from everywhere (with the occasional glimpse) as did Bonelli’s Warblers (much easier to see, but surprisingly difficult to get close enough to photograph).  I stayed and had a sandwich and waited to see if anything else might start up and show itself, but nothing did, so I then continued up to the top of the hill (where the narrow road becomes just a track).  Following the track down the other side a short distance, the whole valley opens out so I stopped here for a while, once again to see what I could see (and hear).

 I do love the acrobatic little Nuthatches
 - can't understand why the blood doesn't rush to their heads and make them fall off!
 You really appreciate things like Blue Tits when you don't have them around you all the time

Here probably the commonest birds singing were the Melodious Warblers – they seemed to be everywhere, but were also extremely camera shy.  It was while I was trying to tease one of these out into the open that a shadow went over me.  By the time I worked out where the shadow was coming from, and got my bins onto the bird, it had gone quite a long way gliding all the time – a grayish looking falcon with a short tail, my first Hobby of the year that must have passed within 10 metres of me!
And then another first for me for the year in the form of a Cuckoo that started calling, but from very distantly on the mountain.  Other birds seen from here were Cirl and Rock Buntings, Woodchat Shrike, and a few glimpses from time to time of the Nightingales which were singing constantly.
As I had several places I wanted to visit, at about 2-30pm I left the area for my next stop.

 Some more general views on the way down from the top of the Cañada road 
- and in this last photo you can just make out the distant snow topped mountains

 Big bush of Broome that was in flower adding some colour

At one puddle of snow-melt water, I was fascinated to see tens of small Blue butterflies gathering on the edges of the puddle.  Presumably to pick up some chemical, I think there were two species, one of which Common Blue, but I've no idea of the other.  Anyone with any ideas?

This was at a farm where there is a colony of Lesser Kestrels, but which also normally has some other interesting birds around, such as Carrion Crow, Chough and Rock Sparrow, and while waiting for some of the Kestrels to show themselves, I heard the characteristic song of a Golden Oriole.  Amazing how well a bird with such bright colours can hide itself – I know it was there in a small stand of pines, but could I find it!!  Luckily there was no such problem with the Kestrels.

 Rock Sparrow singing its heart out - you can just about make out the yellow spot on its chest ...
 ... and if there was any doubt, this back of the head view confirms the i.d.
 This Chough obviously hasn't heard the species is meant to shun human company

Female Lesser Kestrel
 Not particularly common in Murcia, the stronghold of the Carrion Crow seems to be in the northwest
Male Lesser Kestrel

Staying there for about half an hour, it was soon time to be moving on again.  This time it was to the outskirts of a village called Campos del Rio, on the way through to Molina de Segura, and the ‘Rio’ referred to is actually the ‘Rio Mula’.  I’d never been to this area before, but my reason for stopping here was to check out a couple of reports I’d seen in the last few months of people seeing pairs of Ruddy Shelducks here in some of the farm reservoirs.  Well checking the reservoirs in question, I did come across a single Ruddy Shelduck, but it had a yellow ring on one of its legs – obviously escaped from some collection.

 If for nothing else, to lay the rumour of a small colony of Ruddy Shelduck to rest.  Yes there was one there, but it had a plain colour ring on it and was therefore an escape from a collection.

I was by now almost at Molina de Segura, so I made my way to the ‘Rio Segura’ at Archena.  Apart from having a well known Spa, this town has a wonderful riverside promenade (pity about all the rubbish), where some good birds can be found.  The one I was after in particular was Western Olivaceous Warbler.  I knew they were in as I had seen that one had been captured and ringed the week before, but it was just a matter of waiting to hear one above the noise of all the Nightingales and Cetti’s Warblers!  Here I struck lucky, with one showing itself on the other side of the river (and at the same time I could hear a Penduline Tit calling – a bit of a bonus).  Having walked the full length of the promenade, on my way back to my car, a small bird caught my attention – a male Pied Flycatcher, presumably still on migration.

 Western Olivaceous Warbler seen across the river ...
 ... and a much closer Pied Flycatcher seen overhead

My last stop of the day was at Campotejar (or the EDAR of Molina de Segura to give it its full name).  These are a series of lakes created by the waste water from the EDAR (or sewage plant), which are surrounded by tall and quite thick reed beds, and are normally very good for seeing members of the heron family – or so I´d hoped.  But today it was not to be - not a single Little Bittern, Squacco Heron or Night Heron.  In fact things were particularly quiet – just a few Pochard, Red-crested Pochard, Mallard and White-headed Ducks in the way of ducks, a pair of Great Crested Grebes and a few more of Little Grebes, Black Winged Stilts, Common Sandpipers, Little Ringed Plovers, Turtle Doves, Bee-eaters, a few Reed Warblers singing away interjected by the occasional Cetti’s, and very little else.  So by the time I’d walked round the lagoons, it was gone 7-30pm and I’d had a long day and so I decided it was home time.

Birds seen during the day:
Little Grebe (Tachybaptus ruficollis); Great Crested Grebe (Podiceps cristatus); Shelduck (Tadorna tadorna); Mallard (Anas platyrhynchos); Pochard (Aythya ferina); Red-crestd Pochard Netta rufina); White-headed Duck (Oxyura leucocephala); Short-toed Eagle (Circaetus gallicus); Kestrel (Falco tinnunculus); Lesser Kestrel (Falco naumanni); Hobby (Falco subbuteo); Moorhen (Gallinula chloropus); Coot (Fulica atra); Black-winged Stilt (Himantopus himantopus); Little Ringed Plover (Charadrius dubius); Common Sandpiper (Actitis hypoleucos); Yellow-legged Gull Larus michahellis); Common Tern (Sterna hirundo); Woodpigeon (Columba palumbus); Collared Dove (Streptopelia decaocto); Turtle Dove (Streptopelia turtur); Cuckoo (heard only) Cunulus canorus); Common Swift (Apus apus); Pallid Swift (Apus pallidus); Bee-eater (Merops apiaster); Hoopoe (Upupa epops); Green Woodpecker (heard only) (Picus viridis); Great Spotted Woodpecker (heard only) (Dendrocops major); Crested Lark (Galerida cristata); Short-toed Lark (Calandrella brachydactyla); Woodlark (heard only) (Lullula arborea); Swallow (Hirundo rustica); Red-rumped Swallow (Hirundo daurica); House Martin (Delichon urbicum); White Wagtail (Motacilla alba alba); Black-eared Wheatear (Oenanthe hispanica); Blackbird (Turdus merula); Cetti’s Warbler (Cettia cettia); Reed Warbler (Acrocephalus scirpaceus); Western Olivaceous Warbler (Hippolais opaca); Melodious Warbler (Hippolais polyglotta); Willow Warbler (Phylloscopus trochilus); Bonelli’s Warbler (Phylloscopus bonelli); Pied Flycatcher (Ficedula hypoleuca); Blue Tit (Parus caeruleus); Great Tit (Parus major); Coal Tit (Parus ater); Penduline Tit (heard only) (Remiz pendulinus); Nuthatch (Sitta europaea); Short-toed Treecreeper (Certhia brachydactyla); Woodchat Shrike (Lanius senator); Golden Oriole (heard only) Oriolus oriolus); Magpie (Pica pica); Carrion Crow (Corvus corone); Red-billed Chough (Pyrrhocorax pyrrhocorax); Spotless Starling (Sturnus unicolor); House Sparrow (Passer domesticus); Rock Sparrow (Petronia petronia); Chaffinch (Fringilla coelebs); Serin (serinus serinus); Greenfinch (Carduelis chloris); Goldfinch (Carduelis carduelis); Linnet (Carduelis cannabina); Corn Bunting (Miliaria calandra); Cirl Bunting (Emberiza cirlus); Rock Bunting (Emberiza cia).
Total, 66 species.

Happy birding,



  1. Hi Richard - I am staying in Murcia in the second half of June and am looking to catch up with Western Olly. Where is the best place in Archena to park and which direction do you walk the river?
    Many Thank, Phil Andrews

    1. Hi Phil, I hope there's still time - I've just noticed that the reply I put hasn't shown!

      The best place to park is a large car park next to a football pitch, close to the Balneario. Copy & paste the following co-ordinates into the Google Earth search function.

      38.122507, -1.293810.

      This shows you the car park. From here, walk to the riverside promenade, and go right. Walk along here as far as the main road bridge over the river. Keep an eye (and more importantly, an hear) out - you should come across several examples. Make sure that you know their song though, as it's easily confused with Reed Warbler which are also quite common here.

      Good luck, and let me know how you get on (and what other species you see).

    2. Thanks for the above Richard - I will give it a punt on Monday morning and report back. Is there a path on the eastern bank of the rio as well?

    3. Phil, there is, but it's pretty unsavoury - where fly-tipping occurs, and strange people gather! But you can actually get closer to the birds there - the only thing is where to park - there's nowhere obvious.

    4. As a PostScript to my previous comment, if you can get there on Sunday morning, I've just heard that there will be a group on the other (eastern) side as you put it, ringing from about 6am onwards, and they regularly catch a few Western Olivaceous Warblers, if you'd like to see them in the hand.

  2. Hi Richard - spent an enjoyable 2.75 hours at Archena yesterday, walking the rio from the spa to the suspension bridge. Sightings as follows: 1 Nightingale, 3 Great Reed Warbler, 2 Woodchat Shrike, flock of Long-tailed Tits, several Blackcaps, countless Spotted Flycatchers, 2 Black Redstart near the spa, Kestrel, Reed and Cetti's Warbler, Fan-tailed Warbler, Golden Oriole, swifts galore, 2 Red-rumped Swallows, Green Woodpecker and 4 Western Olivaceous Warbler (1 just above the concrete road bridge and 3 approx. 200 metres north of the football pitch towards the spa - all birds in tamarisks).
    On the way back had a drive round the plains of Guadalentin with little knowledge or expectation - sightings included 5 Rollers, about a dozen Bee-eaters, 2 Lesser Kestrel, unexpected Tree Sparrow, a flock of c30 Jackdaw, Red-rumped Swallow and a Black-bellied Sandgrouse flushed from close to the road.

  3. Hi Phil, seems like you pretty much cleaned up at Archena - the only other birds that I can think you might have got are Wryneck and Penduline Tit, but if they aren't making a noise, pretty much impossible to see.

    With regards to the saladares, they can be pretty quiet at this time of year, so the 5 Rollers and Lesser Kestrels in particular are good.