Saturday, 25 April 2009

South to the Coto Doñana

A Nuthatch peeks out to see who's about

A Short-toed Treecreeper sings in the forest

We travelled down from Extremadura last week stopping to have a look at the famous cork-oak forests that cover a huge area of southern Spain and Portugal. Here we picked up Nuthatches and Short-toed Treecreepers as well as the impressive Mistle Thrushes and lots of other commoner species of these amazing woodlands. Booted Eagles, Black Kites and Short-toed Eagles kept us company en route with lots of these raptors being seen from the mini-bus.

A Great Egret is a common sight now in Southern Spain and Portugal

The weather was better than 't'up North' and we were upgraded to what is arguably the best hotel in this part of rural Spai, the lovely Los Mimbrales at El Rocío. The Cortijo de Los Mimbrales, to give it it's official title is a lovely sprawling colonial-type hotel set in beutiful gardens within a large orange grove. Everything has an orange flavour to it with soaps, shampoos and even free cologne in your bathroom. I gave the cologne to Patty - honest!
Golden Orioles sang in the gardens as did Nightingales and all manner of finches, Blackbirds. Nesting Swallows darted back and forward to their nests as the busuily fed their chicks. It is a great setting and I must say didn't mind the little bit of luxury sprwling in the large bedroom or eating the lovely food provided in the hotel's dining room.

Part of the attraction in showing people the Coto Doñana area, is the vast wetlands within the Parque Nacional. There is only one small segment open to the general public and that is within a purpose built barn-shaped and thatched-roofed structure called the José Antonio Valverde Centro des Visitantes. Inside are large plate-glass viewing windows which overlook the flooded area on the edge of the wetlands track, which is open to the public. The track is fairly erroded each year after the winter and spring rains and it is rather a long way to bounce along the raised track. Normally lots of birds can be seen on both sides from this elevated position but most of the ctivity was around the JAV centre.

There are always a few raptors around in the Doñana. The Short-toed Eagle is the second largest of these with seven pairs of the Spanish Imperial Eagles that are also present.

There are some wonderful displays of wild flowers in all of Spain in April/May. Armeria veltutina is one to be found within the Parks and surrounding countryside and is a real beauty.

French Lavender fills the roadsides and drier areas

Great Reed Warbler sings at the JAV centre right in front of the windows.

A young Marsh Harrier flies off across the marsh

The lagoon in front of El Rocío was fairly busy with Greater Flamingoes, Eurasian Spoonbills, a few Great Egrets, Cattle and Little Egrets. Ducks were mainly Mallard although there were many more Gadwall, Garganey, Common Pochard and Red-crested Pochards visible than in previous years. Collard Pratincoles were nearby and waders on the lagoon edges included Ruff, Spotted Redshank, Common Redshank, Greenshank, Dunlin and a few Little Stints.

Eurasian Spoonbills in flight

Glossy Ibis nestbuilding at the JAV centre. There is also a Western Reef Egret nesting (predominantly an African species) with a Little Egret at the centre, Just ask the staff and they'll point out the location of their nest amongs all the other Egrets, 'Glossies', Purple Herons, Squacco's and Night Herons! The place is certainly worth a visit. Be warned though, the water evaporates staedily over the summer and even although this winter's rains have flooded huge areas, this shallow water will be reduced to all but a small section deep inside the marshes where access isn't permitted. El Rocío's lagoon will also dry out by late August! Ther best time to visit any of the Wetland areas in winter and spring.

The great expanses of water and marsh are south-east of El Rocío. Head for Villamanrique de la Condessa and follow the signs for Isla Mayor. On the last part of the tarred road that takes you to Isla Mayor at a left turn you'll see a sandy track ahead with canals on both sides. This is the track for the JAV centre which will let you know if you have a spine or not. Mind you the speed bumps between El Rocío and Villamanrique are bum numbing as well! Click here for a map of the area

Vipers Bugloss, Wild Mustard and red and pink Vetches provide an colourful backdrop to the Andalucian cattle.
More archived photos here......Scorpions, Spiders and Chameleons

Off to Portugal now. If I can I'll post some photos.
All the best Stephen

Friday, 17 April 2009

Some Pics from Extremadura....

Extremaduran landscape in Springtime

I hope this posting works from the hotel in Trujillo.... I have a connection but little time and feeling pretty knackered after dodging huge rain showers since Tuesday! Weather cold, birds have been good but need some coaxing out.
Lots of Great and Little Bustards with very good views but poor quality photos this time (apologies). Roller, both Pin-tailed and Black bellied Sandgrouse, Stone Curlews and all the usual suspects including loads of raptors, Great Spotted Cuckoos, Common Waxbills, Bee-eaters and the like. Some mammals, very few herps and butterflies.
Heading to the Coto D tomorrow and hopefully the weather (and light!) will improve.

Cold weather meant that a lot of warblers and other smaller passerines kept low and out of sight a lot of the time. One pleasant surprise was the bird above which looked like a Western Olivacious Warbler ... then Booted Warbler came to mind especially as it was 'scolding' with a persistent 'zsipt-zsipt-zsipt' call. The legs were all wrong for a Reed and I have never seen any Booted.... I really don't know.... but would be happy if anyone can help on the ID and explain why.

Subalpine Warbler amongst the Cistus bushes at Monfrague

The following are some pretty poor light shots of Spanish Imperial Eagle perched or in flight at Monfrague. It was a wet, dark day with extremely poor light....I'll just have to go back when it's better weather for better photographs!

You can see the raindrops in this shot as the bird decided it had had enough. Fortunately we were inside one of the shelters.

Common Waxbills



Rock Bunting

Red Deer feeding

Long-tailed Tit

(Iberian) Red Fox vixen
Griffon Vulture

Golden Eagle near Monfrague National Park

Eagle Owl Chicks in the rain - I had difficulty getting everyone on the tour on to these fluffy chicks!

A Black Vulture passes close to the Eagle Owl Chicks

One of the Golden Eagles

A Black Stork at Monfrague National Park

Azure-winged or Iberian Magpie prances in the rain!

Southern Grey Shrike

Hoopoe in flight near Trujillo

Black-bellied Sandgrouse in flight near Zorita

All photos taken this week in Extremadura

Monday, 13 April 2009

Off On Tour.....

Cabañas del Castillo, Extremadura, Spain

Black Vulture

Trujillo's Moorish Castle

Male Little Bustards displaying in the early light

Spanish Imperial Eagle

Hi Folks! Starting early tomorrow I'm leading a tour to Extremadura and the Coto Doñana. I know that there are lots of you looking past at the blog and hoping for more reports and photos, but although I'll have my laptop with me, I suspect that internet connections to both areas will still be as they were last year, pretty much as far as internet connections were concerned, a no-go-zone, rather than a wi-fi zone!
My Patty, lovely as ever, will be manning the fort and if you have any enquiries please drop her a line.

If by some miracle, I do get on-line over the next eight days I will make every effort to post some enticing bits and bobs. Hopefully this will get some of you who have never, ever, ever been to both of there sites, to book a future tour with me.

Above are some images from Extremadura and underneath you'll find a few from the Coto Doñana.

Have a good week whatever you are up to!


At the Dehesa de Abajo

Squacco Heron

El Rocio Church and the freshwater lagoon

(Iberian) Azure winged Magpie

Crested, Red-knobbed, or Double-Haematoma Coot - Call it what you want, it's still Fulica cristata
Click on the bird to see the haematomas

Saturday, 11 April 2009

The Strait of Gibraltar and The Guadalquivir - Two Great Areas

A Calandra Lark flies around us displaying while all around these lovely birds, a steady movement of raptors cross the skies above, and skirt the fields where these beautiful birds breed, quartering the lands en route to their breeding areas, where many Calandra Larks must make up part of the diet of some birds of prey. So precarious is life in the bird worlds that you would always have to be on guard against swift and fatal predation!
This is just another fascinating way of looking at the busy Spring season as the breeding clocks tick, the weather changes and feeding for that essential strength is all important once they arrive
back where the days are longer and hopefully it will be a successful season

A young male Montagu's Harrier taken a few years ago near Barbate

Andy and Kate who live near Bath in the UK have been spending some time with us at Hoopoe Cottage. I took them out for two days to give them an overview of the immediate area and to catch some of the 'visible' bird migration as well as enjoying the wild flowers and other natural history of the area. The weather has been pretty changeable over the last few days with strong easterlies (again!) , then the wind swung completely around from the WNW, bringing cold air some light showers and a drop in nightime temperature. Birds were still crossing, of course, but during the day things were visibly quieter than previous weeks. I decided to cover as much ground as possible and leaving the Citroen mini-bus at home I opted for the Land Rover Discovery and the choice to be as f
lexible as possible with the terain.
Leaving Barbate we quickly picked up three Bald Ibis flying along the coast - What a great start to the morning!

Griffon Vultures were very much in evidence and we watched an adult on her nest through the telescope, tending its single chick. Crag Martins swept past the cliff face and chased off any incoming Sparrowhaws in their breeding area. In the photo below, Crag Martins actually struck the Sparrowhawk on the back of the body! I just wasn't quick enough to capture that one...

We took time to watch Short-toed Eagles coming in off the sea, arriving in Europe for the first time this year. There was a small party of six Short-toed and two Booted Eagles. The Booted Eagles were one of each, the light form and a dark bird and this is something that really helps when you see what at first appears to be a unknown bird coming in off the sea. You then have the other eagle to compare and very quickly you realise that this is the dark form.
Sparrowhawks were also coming in and in the distance we picked up two Marsh Harriers and a pair of adult Egyptian Vultures - one with a radio transmitter and antenna mounted on its back!

Looking down on one of the Short-toed Eagles

There were plenty of other birds around for us to see and one of the 'star' birds was the essentially African Little Swift. The nesting birds are accompanied in the air quite often by the resident Crag Martins and their equally early breeding friends the Hose Martins.
Little Swifts
Quite often the presence of Little Swifts causes interest from other Swifts such as Alpine, Common and the more abundant southern species, the Pallid Swift. They can all be in the air one minute, flying around checking each other out - and of course feeding at the same time, then as quickly as they came, they are gone again. There is no set time to see them. If they are breeding, just have patience and they will appear soon enough with food.
Bee-eaters came across in small groups all day, their constant flight calls alerting us of their presence. Black-eared Wheatears and Northern Wheatears were seen

A dark form of the small Booted Eagle photographed on Thursday

Bee-eaters have been constant passage migrants now for weeks
Our second day together was to the other side of the province. It's about an hour and fifteen minutes to the Guadalquivir River depending on how long you spend searching for birds en route. Quite often you can come across some unexpected species in the most unlikely places during migration.
Pintailed Sandgrouse

Our birding began with Red-rumped Swallows and Calandra Larks - yes I know we saw lots the day before but they are just too good to ignore. Cruising the fields were Gull-billed Terns and the smaller Whiskered Terns. Out a little bit further we watched Monty's, Hen and Marsh harriers all within close proximity to one another.
Northern Lapwings are always lovely to spot and we have a few breeding pairs on the edge of the river. Yellow Wagtails, Woodchat Shrikes seemed to be very common and the recent influx of these two handsome birds was really appreciated.
A few waders came onto the brackish pools and these included, Ringed and Little Ringed Plovers and Little Stints. Little and Cattle Egrets seemed to be fairl easy to see and Great Egrets were in double figures again. I didn't see any Glossy Ibis though - they must have been having the day off!
We managed to scope Pintailed Sandgrouse on the ground and although we had a good search we didn't see any more. The photo above is in the same area but on another visit.

A Whimbrel passes by but comes quite close to us for a good look!

Many of the breeding colony of Slender-billed Gulls

An elegant Whiskered Tern

The more purposeful and business like Gull-billed tern

A migrating Purple Heron

Our day was interrupted by fillet of Dorada (Sea Bream) and chips with a great mixed salad and bread, washed down with the local white wine. Just great value for 10 Euros a head!
We went cross-country after our meal and saw Greater Flamingoes, Eurasian Spoonbills, more Great Egrets, hundreds of Dunlins, Redshanks, some greenshanks and Little Stints and a few Curlew Sandpipers. A couple of Black-tailed Godwits were also seen and a Whimbrel flew right overhead.
Using the the Land Rover, as it turned out was a good idea, as the track was pretty abysmal with huge ruts and craters that would hae been pretty difficult in a normal road car.
Common and Green Sandpipers were extremely 'common' as we followed the river North.
Greater Short-toed Larks and Lesser Short Toed Larks were seen and I think that over the two days we saw all the breeding lark species down this way - all five of them.
Lovely memories and great birding!