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Thursday, June 30, 2016

Spain - Road Trip 2016


On the 10th June 2016 my wife Lori and I embarked on a road trip / reconosense for Summit to Seashore Birding Adventures that started in the Spanish Pyrenees and concluded in Malaga, clocking up over 2000 kms. The weather remained good throughout the trip with a high of 36 degrees in Trujillo and average temperatures of 27 degrees daily. There was only light  precipitation in the mountain area around Jaca on one day  and strong winds on the last two days in Tarifa. 

The birding was tough going at times, which we were prepared for, mainly due to the time of year but also due to the previous winter's impact in certain areas. An unprecedented amount of rainfall  had fallen and as a consequence the steppe grasses were very high, making spotting bustards and Sandgrouse near impossible. However, those challenges didn’t deter us and we tallied a total of 156 species, 27 lifers for me. The basic route was as follows - Stansted to Bilbao - Jaca (3 nights), Jaca - Trujillo (3 nights), Trujillo - Sevilla (2 nights), Sevilla - Tarifa (3 nights), Tarifa - Málaga then fly Gatwick. What follows is a daily account of the highlights and areas covered.

10th June 2016 - Bilbao - Jaca

We arrived at Bilbao airport at 10:00 am, picked up our car from Hertz and headed to the Guggenheim Museum for some cultural sustenance. By 14:30 we were on our way with a 3 hour drive  to the beautiful town of Jaca, set in the foothills of the Pyrenees. Birds of note en-route were Griffon Vulture, Black Kite, Booted Eagle, Osprey and a singing Nightingale outside our accommodation. 

11th June 2016 - Astun and Hecho Valley

Departed at 07:10 am for the ½ drive to the ski resort of Astun which sits directly north of Jaca. A thick layer of mist over the hills made scanning at distance challenging so we concentrated on what we could see and that was some very good birds. Iberian Green Woodpecker started our day off very nicely followed by a perched Red-backed Shrike.  Next came Citril Finch, Serin, Rock Bunting, Water Pipit, Yellowhammer, Crag Martin and a fantastic Rock Thrush.  

The remainder of the day was spent at various sites within the Hecho Valley. The scenery was incredible offering an amazing canvas as a backdrop to such species as Egyptian Vulture, Griffon Vulture, Booted Eagle, Black kite Red-billed Chough, Kestrel and Red Kite. Lammergeier though searched for didn’t make an appearance during our vigil. Crested Tit, Black Redstart, Serin, Dipper and Crag Martin were all present. 

13th June 2016 - Los Mallos de Riglos

Today was spent in Riglos, scanning the massive red pinnacles of Los Mallos de Riglos. En-route we got good views of White Storks, Woodchat Shrikes, Corn Bunting and Spotless starling and a big colony of nesting House Martin and Crag Martin. 

Griffon Vulture, Egyptian Vulture, Raven, Red-billed Chough cruised round this impressive rock formation with an unconfirmed sighting of Lammergeier that disappeared before a conclusive identification was made. More Bee-eaters were on show and we added Crested Lark and Cuckoo to our list.

13th June 2016 Jaca - Trujillo / Extremadura 

Nightingale, Golden Oriole and Wheatear all made their presence known outside our window before we were out of bed. By 07:30 we were on the road heading for the ancient town of Trujillo. Kites, raptors and vultures kept us company on our 7 hour drive across country and on arrival in the town Lesser Kestrel and swifts (both Pallid and Common) greeted us as we made our way through the tiny alleyways to the town square. 

After booking into our hotel and a little relaxation I took a walk through the town where the continual screaming of swifts with their seemingly kamikaze personalities  was in itself one of the most dramatic avian encounters I have witnessed. Their aerobatic ability, continual high speed maneuvers was really something to see, with groups of up to 10 birds packed tightly as a group and surely just racing each other for the fun of it. House Martin, Crag Martin, Swallow and Red-rumped Swallow were also putting on a show. Nesting White Storks on the buildings were a wonderful sight with Spotless Starling and Black Redstart in many areas. 

The cultivated area behind the town produced some good birds in the evening including Sardinian Warbler, Melodious Warbler, Stonechat, Woodchat Shrike, Bee-eater, Little Owl and Azure-winged Magpie. 

14th June 2016 - Monfrague National Park / Saucedilla

A morning walk before breakfast back in the cultivated area was productive with 30 species recorded including Hoopoe and Iberian Grey Shrike. After breakfast we headed to Monfrague National Park arriving about 10:30 am and greeted by fantastic views of a pair of Bonelli’s Eagles. Our first stop was the famous rock pinnacle known at Penafalcon. Breeding birds here include Griffon Vulture, Peregrine Falcon, Egyptian Vulture and Black Stork. Within minutes of scanning we located all of the above plus Blue Rock Thrush, Booted Eagle, Black Redstart and Rock Bunting.  We then hiked the trail path to Castillo de Monfrague  where vultures pass you by at head height. You have the choice of a short route of about 200 meters or opt for the longer path which takes you through some interesting cork and eucalyptus woodland. This  takes about an hour but produced Long-tailed Tit ( Iberian race), Nuthatch and Short-toed Treecreeper. 

Continuing east we stopped at a dam where both Griffon and Black Vulture were seen at close range. Our final two stops were geared towards locating Spanish Imperial Eagle, though unfortunately we were unrewarded for our efforts. That said, we did locate a Black Vulture nest which was a great consultation. 

Our final destination for the day was the Arrocampo Reservoir south of Saucedilla and east of the Monfrague National Park. We spent 1 ½ hours checking some of the main areas which produced a few good trip birds - Purple Heron, Grey Heron, Little Bittern, Purple Swamphen, Gull-billed Tern, Marsh Harrier, Hobby, Thekla Lark, Cormorant and Fan-tailed Warbler. 

15th June 2016  - Trujillo and Caceres Plains

As previously stated the time of year and grass height were definitely not in our favour but we persevered and put in a full day where we covered as much ground as possible. Beginning at 08:00 am and finishing around 16:30. The first half of the day covered the Trujillo plains where we stopped at 7 key areas which delivered such delights as Woodchat Shrike, Iberian Grey Shrike, Sardinian Warbler, Bee-eater, Calandra lark, Crested Lark, Short-toed Lark, Black-bellied Sandgrouse,  Spanish Sparrow, Booted Eagle, Kingfisher and Roller. 

After lunch we concentrated on the Caceres plains, making another 5 main stops enroute. Here we connected with more of the same species at Trujillo but also managed to add a few species such as Little Owl, Hoopoe, Little Ringed Plover, Alpine Swift, Great Reed Warbler, Golden Oriole, Azure-winged Magpie and Raven. 

16th June 2016 - Sierra de San Pedro  - Andalucía

As we were heading towards Sevilla today we could have just gone south. However, we decided to take a slight detour east, then south through the Sierra de San Pedro range. In hindsight this was a good move. Just outside of Caceres on the highway I noticed what looked like a large pale goose flying from the left. Of course it wasn't as goose. It was our first and only GREAT BUSTARD! I had given up on this bird after many hours searching, so this was a very unexpected and greatly received surprise. En-route through Sierra de San Pedro we made a few stops affording us close views of Griffon Vulture and Black vulture and recorded Turtle Dove and Dartford Warbler. Continual scanning and scrutinizing  of all suspicious raptors paid off with a sighting of an adult SPANISH IMPERIAL EAGLE near Albuquerque. 

Our accommodation in Andalucia was located in Benacazon which is ½ drive west of Sevilla. Once settled in we headed to El Rocio which sits on the northern perimeter of the Coto Doñana National Park. Scanning the Madre de las Marismas we connected with our first Greater Flamingos. This fabulous marsh held other new species for us for the trip such as Glossy Ibis, Spoonbill, Little Egret, Greylag Goose and Yellow Wagtail. Just across the road at La Rocina lagoon we spent a little time walking the trails near the hides which produced Spotted Flycatcher, Purple Swamphen, Purple heron, Red-legged Partridge, Bee-eater, Iberian Grey Shrike, Dartford Warbler and Savi’s Warbler. 

17th June 2016 - The Odiel Marshes (Marismas del Odiel) 

A morning visit to the Odiel Marshes southwest of Huelva proved to be a productive area with pools, lagoon, tidal estuary and saltpans to scan. There is a information centre here where I obtained a map for the main areas to check. Though Red-knobbed Coot has been recorded here in the past, only common Coot was recorded on my visit. Flamingos were in abundance  as were Spoonbill which breed close by. Black-tailed Godwit, Curlew and Black-winged Stilt made up the wader contingent and my second sighting of Osprey and the first Little Tern.  A group of 4 Audouin’s Gull flew over and wildfowl were represented by Gadwall, Red-crested Pochard, Pochard and Mallard. Bird of the day for me was Penduline Tit behind the visitor centre where I managed to locate its nest. 

The evening was spent in Sevilla with a memorable visit to Casa de la Memoria for some traditional Flamenco. This alone, in terms of cultural experiences, ranks as one of the top performances I have ever witnessed. The atmosphere, passion and delivery was outstanding as was the food and service. If you go to Sevilla go and see this show! The city itself is wonderful and even in the evening right down town you're not far from birding opportunities with Swift, Lesser kestrel and Monk Parakeets putting in appearances.

18th June 2016 Los Palacios  - Tarifa

Just south of Seville we checked Laguna de Mejorada also known as Los Palacios Lagoon. This small wetland produced some good birds and was well worth the visit. Whiskered Tern, Black-crowned Night Heron, Purple Heron, Squacco Heron, Common Waxbill, Isabelline Warbler (Alt.name:Western Olivaceous Warbler) and Turtle Dove were all stand out birds. 

Our next stop was at the southern end of the Coto Doñana National Park at the Algaida wetlands. Here we checked several areas, some being more productive than others. The best area by far was the Bonanza salinas. These saltpans held some interesting species including Greater Flamingo, Spoonbill, Little Egret, Black-winged Stilt, Little Tern and hundreds of Avocet. Slender-billed Gulls were present and a pair of Kentish Plover were also seen. 

Our final stop en-route to Tarifa was at the most famous of the Jerez Lagoons - Laguna de Medina, though birding this area during the hottest part of the day didn’t divulge its full potential. We didn’t leave empty handed though as we added Great-crested Grebe and Black-necked Grebe to our species list. Our route from here took us southeast through Parque Natural Los Alcornocales to Algeciras then southeast to Tarifa. It is here that Google Maps took us to our accommodation via a very LONG and BUMPY road, basically the wrong road! A little character building to say the least but not without reward. It was along here where we got fantastic views of Black-eared Wheatear (pale-throated) and Tawny Pipit. Birds around our beach front house also included Stonechat, Crested Lark, Goldfinch, Spotless Starling, Sardinian Warbler, Blackcap, Woodchat Shrike, Cattle Egret and Little Owl. 

19th June 2016 - Gibraltar

Visiting Gibraltar was always on the itinerary  though the visible mass migration had finished. We spent the morning at Europa Point and Windmill Hill Flats scanning for the Barbary Partridge. No luck on that front but we did get  our first views of Barbary Macaques. The presence of the massive Yellow-legged Gull breeding colony was very apparent and the only real bird of interest to report was Blue Rock Thrush. A trip on cable car gave us wonderful views of the area and much closer encounters with the ‘rocks’ most photographed residents - Barbary Macaques. 

20th June 2016 

A morning and evening visit to the Sierra de la Plata area just west of Bolonia was well worth the effort if only for the view. My target bird here was White-rumped Swift and is well known as the first place in the Western Palearctic where they were known to be breeding. The famous breeding cave is easily seen from the layby but during both visits no swifts were seen. However, Iberian Green Woodpecker, Great Spotted Woodpecker, Rock Bunting, Kestrel, breeding Griffon Vulture, Sardinian Warbler and fantastic views of Blue Rock Thrush were all recorded. 

After the morning excursion I headed to La Janda, west of the village of Facinas where I followed a small track along a drainage channel. This was a great little road, passing through agricultural land and meadow. Corn Bunting, Bee-eater, Linnet, Goldfinch were the first birds encountered but as I continued with the channel to my right and meadow to my left the birds began to change. Fan-tailed Warbler, Great Reed Warbler, Cetti’s Warbler, Reed Warbler were all still vocalising from the reeds while White Stork, Glossy Ibis, Spoonbill, Black-winged Stilt waded in the meadows. Movement from a bird seen in a muddy irrigated field prompted me to jump on the brakes and scan its position. This particular target bird didn’t get away. Across the channel and scattered over the field were approximately 30 Collared Pratincole. 

21st June 2016 - Malaga - Gatwick


As this was our final day in Spain we took a leisurely drive up the coast stopping at Marbella for a bite to eat before heading for Malaga. Here, it seemed appropriate, to finish our 12 day tour of this incredible country  in a similar fashion as we started. So, we spent 1 ½ hours gazing at the awe inspiring  work of one of Malaga’s most famous patrons at Museo Picasso.

Photos: Spain 2016

Sunday, June 5, 2016

June Birding with Micky Avenell!


3-4th June 2016

Had a fun couple of days with my dear friend Micky Avenell. Micky was over from Australia and we took advantage to do a little birding.  Firstly, I took Micky to see the Peregrine Falcons that were breeding on the Export House (the old BAT) in Woking. Next we popped into WWF to see my wife Lori before heading to Thursley Common for a little Heathland birding. Here we got some cracking views of some of the specialties including Micky's lifer Dartford Warbler! Other species of note included: Curlew, Cuckoo, Great Spotted Woodpecker, Whitethroat, Stonechat, Redstart, Tree Pipit and Linnet. A quick stop down Tannery Lane in Send produced a Little Owl hiding in a pollarded Willow. After catching up with another of our old friends Paddy Clarke, we headed to Chobham Common where we got crippling views of 3 roding Woodcock and 5 Nightjar!


The following morning we had an early start and headed east to the famous RSPB Reserve - Minsmere! Here we tallied about 70 species including wonderful views of Bittern and a Great Spotted Woodpecker nest!