Sunday, 13 December 2009

Last Week - December Birding

December is normally a quiet time for visiting birders but the quality and quantity of resident and wintering birds in SW Andalucia is just astounding! Have a look at some of the photos below.

Black winged Kite - a regular bird to look out for during December. We saw four birds without really trying too hard!

Anne and Tudor Martin-Smith, from Bermuda were exploring Andalucia last week. They booked two nights at Hoopoe Cottage and also a day tour with me. We explored the stunning coastline from Barbate to Bolonia where we walked a short distance to the Faro de Camarinal, the lighthouse that is almost opposite Cape Espartel in Morocco, on the western edge of The Strait of Gibraltar. The Atlantic was fairly calm but the rollers that were breaking on the beach were a fair size and their noise incredible.
A few Audouin's Gulls could be seen on two of the beaches with Lesser Black-backed and Yellow Legged Gulls. Northern Gannets were further off-shore but Crag Martins, Common Stonechat, European Robins, Sardinian Warblers, Chiffchaffs, Blackcaps, European Greenfinch, Common Chaffinch, Song Thrush and Common Blackbird all kept us busy around the lighthouse scrub.

There are some great coastal walking routes and apart from Zahara and Atlanterra, thre's not much else in the way of buildings, just a stunning jagged coastline of coves with beautiful sandy beaches surrounded by forests of Umbrella Pines.

One Black-winged Kite was hunting out in the fields and as we watched from the Land Rover, the bird decided to come down and land on a fig tree right behind the car!. I took this rather blurred shot through the rear window before it took off and went to perch somewhere else. Amazing!

A family of Common Cranes at La Janda

After looking at Griffon Vultures and the spectacular views freom the very top of the Sierra de La Plata, we descended through Bolonia finding Thekla and Crested Larks and lots of Common Kestrels. La Janda was next stop and we took advantage of the permissions to access several of the larger farms within this huge expanse of agricultura land. This is the area where the wintering Common Cranes can best be viewed and without any through traffic you can get fairly close to the flocks and smaller family groups that feed on the harvested fields.

Early Morning Cranes moving across Andalucia in winter

A family Of Common Cranes skirts the edge of La Janda

Some other highlights of La Janda included watching the flight of a juvenile Bonelli's Eagle, several score of Marsh Harrier, a few Lesser Kestrels, good numbers of Common Buzzards.

A Great Spotted Cuckoo flies past

Great Spotted Cuckoos are present during winter months in low numbers. February sees more Greak (Screaming) Cuckoo activity and of course more visbile numbers, with birds displaying in good numbers, often twenty plus in certain areas just inland from the coast. They don't breed down this way as far as I know but the increase in Common Magpie poulations from the west have seen a few pairs turning up near Benalup and to Alcalá de Los Gazules.
Common Magpies aren't the most popular of birds amongst birders, beautiful looking as they are. Our emotions get in way way and we regard them as causing harm to other smaller passerine populations. This is how nature works. In the same way if the Common Magpies start breeding here, the presence of Great Spotted Cuckoos will increase, as they are parasites, targetting Common Magpie nests. Up until now, we've only had migrant passage with no known breeding records in Cadiz province.

A juvenie Marsh Harrier one of hundreds of these lovely raptors that stay throughout winter in SW Andalucia

Now to the other side of the county....

A Red Kite passes close by near Sanlúcar de Barrameda

On another day last week, I met George and Sonia Archdale from Cambridge and showed them the delights of the vast expanses on the Río Guadalquivir.

An adult European Goldfinch looking absolutely splendid in the morning light

We started our journey through the rolling vinyards outside Jerez and too the back roads past the cerial fields where Clandra Larks flock, often in huge numbers and many wintering Common Buzzards, Marsh Harriers and both Common and Lesser Kestrels can be seen. Red-legged Partridge were in abundance and the verges bore a profusion of yellow-flowering Squirting cucumbers Wild Mustard and Cape Sorrel.

A large flock of Calardra Larks

Descending onto the flat salt-marsh between Sanluca and Trebujena we found Red Kite, Black-winged Kite and a wonderful perched male Peregrine Falcon, which later put on a wonderful flying display. The fields were full of Cattle Egrets, Goldfinche, Serin, Spanish Sparrows and Common Linnet.

One of five Osprey seen on a winter day tour last week

We came across Thekla Lark and of course the commoner Crested Lark once down onto the edge of the river. More Marsh Harriers flew past both on the Cadiz side of the Guadalquivir and across in Huelva province, in what is the National Park of the famous Coto Doñana. From Sanlucar in the south, at the Atlantic coastline until Andalucia's capital Sevliia, there is no bridge to cross over to the protected Coto Doñana. It's an eighty kilometer drive from Cadiz province to the outskirts of Seville. If you wish to drive from our home near Barbate to El Rocío, the main town beside the Coto Doñana National Park, the distance is around 245kms by road - but only 85kms as the eagle flies!

An adult Balck Stork flies past, the lovely iridescent glint from it's seemingly black feathers, being lit up in the soft morning light (click on all of the photos to see more detail)

Greater Flamingoes also look absolutely stunning in flight

Even when feeding the Greater Flamingoes are quite beautiful with graceful charm all of their own and of course an exotic European breeding bird

One of a set of photos of a massive flock of waders, mostly Dunlin, put up by one of the many Peregrine Falcons in the area

A juvenile Black-crowned Night Heron takes to the wing

Incredible numbers of Grey Herons were also present - naturally around a lot of the fish farms!

All in all I had two great days out in the field with lovely people who were extremely appreciative guests, basking in the warm winter sun and experiencing the delights of such richness that is still present in this part of southern Europe.

Monday, 7 December 2009

Marsh Owl Photos

More Marsh Owl (Asio capensis ssp. tingitanus) photos

One pair displaying!

Sunday, 6 December 2009

Sneak Preview... Photos From Morocco

Marsh Owls (Asio capensis Ssp. tingitanus) number probably less than sixty of the NW Moroccan sub-species, which makes it the rarest owl in the Western Palearctic region

Good flight shots of Marsh Owls have eluded me for years and last week's Andalucian Bird Society to Morocco was not only a great success but we managed to see some of these very special birds ... and I got my long awaited photos too!

The NW Moroccan form of Marsh Owl is a medium sized owl with very small, seldom visible ear tufts which can be better seen when the bird is perched.
The bird is uniform brown above, fine dusky vermiculations on lighter brown below. Paler facial disk with dark area around dark brown eyes. Closer inspection of the eye colour reveals a very subtle dark orange with black pupils.

Size 29-36cm, 225-375g Range Patchy populations in NW Morocco, and West Africa, Ethiopia south to South Africa and Madagascar.
Habitat Open country including marshes, moors, savannah, montane grassland, avoiding extensive long grass, desert and forested areas.
Their food Mainly small mammals but also birds and invertebrates. Marhs Owls breed from February-October in N Africa, September-November in SW Africa. Marsh Owls nest on ground in shallow, unlined scrape amongst vegetation. 2-6 eggs are incubated fro 27-28 days. By about 2 weeks the young leave the nest area, but do not fledge for another 3 weeks.

Marsh Owls call A loud croaking "krrrrrrrr" said to resemble the noise made by slowly bending and breaking a branch. Status Not globally threatened, and nominate race widespread, however the other 2 races have a very limited range and small populations which are declining!
Marsh Owls bred in La Janda, Andalucia up until the 1950's

These birds were formerly thought to be very closely related to the Short-eared Owl, but its vocalisations suggest otherwise and DNA sampling is required to shed light on its taxonomy.
At present, taxinomically, the birds are ordered thus:
Asio capensis
Africa south of Sahara except W African rain forest
Ssp. tingitanus NW Morocco
Ssp. hova Madagascar

More photos to follow soon...