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Thursday, 27 September 2012

Amazing Migrants Andalucia Tour 11th - 18th September 2012

 11th September 2012

We arrived at the accommodation just after 1.30pm. 

After a light brunch & coffee we headed off around the accommodation. The grounds sport a mixture of shrubs, trees & farmed fields.

We were soon seeing the ubiquitous Sardinian Warbler, plus a few migrant Blackcaps & a Nightingale provided brief views. In the top trees & fields there was a nice selection of migrants with a few Redstart & Pied Flycatcher & quite a few Spotted Flycatcher. Serin were seen briefly, but a rather flighty Hoopoe eventually gave good views – a good flurry of birds before we had even left the gates!

We then headed into the Rio Genal & Gudiaro valley, an area we were to visit several times during our stay.

This is a river valley running north to south and eventually running into the sea at Sotogrande some 10Km north of La Linea (Gibraltar). The river was much drier than previous years - and there was just a few pools. However, there were sprinklers on the nearby alph-alpha fields & these proved very attractive.

In the fields we noted 50+ Cattle Egret, 3 White Stork, 18 Turtle Dove, 30+ Yellow Wagtail, 20+ Spotless Starling, 2 Fan-tailed Warbler, c250 Corn Bunting, Southern Grey & Woodchat Shrike & many Crested Lark. Also 10 Bee-eater flew over high above us.

We also had a few raptors with a few c10 Short-toed eagle, 15+ Booted eagle & c10 Sparrowhawk.

Down in the valley we had time for a quick search of the few pools left in the riverbed & found Cattle Egret, Little Egret, Green Sandpiper, Common Sandpiper, Grey Wagtail, White wagtail, Cetti’s Warbler & Willow Warbler.

Slightly tired & hot we headed back to the Cortijo, showered & then enjoyed a lovely evening meal in the local town.

12th September 2012

We spent the morning searching the valley & hillsides nearby. We saw most of the species from the previous evening, but had some nice additions as well our first Black Stork, 6 White Stork, 25 Honey Buzzard, 2 Black Kite, 10 Short-toed Eagle, 15 Booted eagle & Griffon Vulture all overhead, plus a real nice surprise was the discovery of a stunning Black-shouldered Kite.

The pools held Kingfisher, Common Sandpiper, Green Sandpiper, Little Ringed Plover & 25 White Wagtail.

The nearby hillside provided several nice birds – a superb male Black-eared Wheatear, a Tawny Pipit, Northern Wheatear & Woodchat Shrike.

Lower down along the field edges Corn Bunting, Crested Lark, Linnet, Goldfinch & Serin were the commonest species & a Whinchat was seen briefly by those in the front of the minibus!

By 1.30PM the temperature had soared into the 30’s & we took lunch & a break back at the accommodation. A few migrant overhead raptors kept everyone entertained whilst taking a break!

Late afternoon we headed off first to Sotogrande, a small freshwater pool & river mouth is sadly now enclosed by the encroaching coastal development. However, there was lots of Red-rumped Swallow, 2 Purple Gallinules, Little Grebe, Coot, Kingfisher & a Melodious Warbler in the coastal bushes.

We then headed  to the the West side of the Palmones estuary, a great vantage point, but not the easiest to find, through the side streets of Algeciras!

Having eventually located the watch-point, we had great views over the whole marsh, we spent 2-3 hours scoping from here, as birds arrived & departed. A really good selection of birds from here - White Stork, several Black-winged Stilt, 5+ Greenshank, 10+ Redshank,40 Ringed Plover, 20 Sanderling, Knot, 2 Whimbrel, Curlew, 30+ Sandwich tern, amongst these were 4 stunning Caspian tern, with 2 birds eventually flying straight over our heads. More distantly a Gull-billed Tern flew up & down the harbour area, plus at least 5 Mediterranean Gulls

There was a big flock of Yellow-legged Gulls, undoubtedly the most noticeable bird was a 1st winter Slender-billed Gull that flew past.

Overhead we had great views of Swallow & Red-rumped Swallow. As dusk fell we had a fantastic flock of c200 “flava” Yellow Wagtails heading into the marsh to roost.

13th September 2012

We left early this morning with packed breakfasts at 7.30am, but on arrival at the raptor watchpoint it soon became evident that the low lying cloud & mist was not going to lift & raptors were not going to be thermalling. We decided to head to nearby reserve  at Playa de los Lances, a nice tidal lagoon on the shoreline west of Tarifa.

There was a nice mix of waders, seabirds & a few passerines.

Birds on the pools included, 5+ Kentish Plover, 50 Spotless Starling, 20 Audoins Gull, 100’s Yellow-legged Gull, 20 Sandwich Tern, 1 Little Stint, 30 Sanderling, 3 Redshank, 2 Knot, 2 Whimbrel & Curlew

The fields just inland of the pools produced 5+ Fan-tailed Warbler, 1 Tawny Pipit & 2 Short-toed Lark

The westerly wind was now blowing quite strongly on shore & a short session of sea-watching produced some close Cory’s Shearwater plus 2 Arctic Skua.

We had a light lunch & then headed off for a boat trip off Tarifa around 12PM.

As the boat headed out we had regular & excellent close up views of several Cory’s Shearwaters.  Gannets, Yellow-legged, Lesser black-backed Gull & Sandwich Terns all passed by regularly.

We had steady action with more Cory’s Shearwater & then a single Balearic Shearwater was noted sat on the water with 3 Cory’s Shearwater. It got quite choppy & rough further out & looking for Storm petrels on this occasion proved impossible.

The cetaceans eventually were located & stole the show, with amazing close ups of 20+ Pilot Whales & 10+ Bottle nosed Dolphins & many Sunfish were also noted.

Having bumped into some friends from Norfolk we decided that we should head up to Bologne to look for Swifts, they had seen 4 species the previous evening. Well, we saw a total of ZERO Swifts, despite waiting until dark! Common Swift, Alpine Swift, Little Swift & White-rumped Swift were seen again a few nights later, possibly suggesting these are migrant birds through the area at this time of the year. We were compensated with nice views of migrant raptors, a Montagu’s harrier, Booted & Short-toed eagle plus close views of Griffon Vulture.

We finished the day with a late evening meal in San Martin del Tesorillo.

14th September 2012

We had an early breakfast at 7.45 & hit the road heading for Sierra Crestallina, a high mountain valley with good cork oak woodland.

Here we found 12 Firecrest, 6 Short-toed Treecreeper, 5 Crested Tit, 2 Great Spotted Woodpecker, Green Woodpecker, 1 Nuthatch, lots of Pied Flycatcher, 4 Redstart, lots of Sardinian warbler, Garden Warbler, Blackcap & the Iberian race of Jay plus a mix of commoner woodland birds.

Over the valley we also had 12 Griffon Vulture, 4 Egyptian Vulture, Black Kite, 1 Peregrine, Buzzard & Booted Eagle. Moving fast down the valley we also noted migrant Honey Buzzard, Booted eagle,
30+ Short-toed Eagle plus migrant swallows, martins & Bee-eater

En-route back a quick stop at Casares produced 2 obliging Blue Rock Thrush. In The Rio Genal en-route back 2 Black-shouldered Kite & a Southern Grey Shrike were also noted.

With the heat again rising over 30c we headed back to the accommodation for lunch & a break until late afternoon when we then headed off to La Janda.

La Janda is a large wetland site with rice fields & irrigated wet canals & channels, this is a magnet for wetland species & migrants.

We had a wonderful bird filled afternoon, starting with a superb flock of c800 White Stork & 1 Black Stork, plus around 20 Glossy Ibis. A surprise, was a Bald Ibis (apparently from a re-introduction program near Cadiz). We were constantly stopping to watch Harriers working the field edges, Marsh & Montagus Harriers.

Searching through the huge flocks of Corn Buntings & Sparrows eventually paid dividends with 2 male Spanish Sparrow being found.

We were unable to locate the Little Bustards seen in the cut fields yesterday, but did have lovely views of 5+ Black-shouldered Kite & were entertained with 1000’s of Cattle Egret, Black-winged Stilt, Snipe, Green sandpiper, Little Ringed Plover & Common Sandpiper, 100’s of Yellow wagtails. We had run out of time & finished at dusk with 2 Stone Curlew & 2 Little Owl. Both Tawny Owl & Long-eared owl were heard but not seen. I decided that we would make a return visit to this site, as we really needed more time to work the whole area.

15th September 2012

We left at 7.45 am, complete with packed breakfast. The wind had dropped from a strong easterly & we stopped off to witness some aerial migration at the westerly watchpoint of Cazalla (KM post 87).

Passage was steady but not not large numbers - 50+ Black Kite, 10 Honey Buzzard, 20+ Short-toed eagle, 50+ Booted Eagle,  Griffon Vulture, 2+ Egyptian Vulture, 1 Marsh Harrier, 20+ Black Stork, 30 Cattle Egret, flock of high  Bee-eater & 10 Sparrowhawk.

We then headed off to Laguna de Medina. There were less birds than previous years, but still a good selection of new & interesting birds. The highlights were - 6 Black-necked Gull, 50 Shoveler, Gadwall, c20 Red-crested Pochard, 6 White-headed Duck, 6 Stone Curlew & good views of 5+ Purple Gallinule. Along the boardwalk edge, there was a good number of migrants, Redstart, Pied Flycatcher, Spotted Flycatcher, Fan-tailed Warbler & Nightingale. The heat was hitting new highs & it must have been close to topping 40c, we headed for the minibus, lunch & air-conditioning.
We lunched near Chicalana de la Frontera at some saltpans & watched a nice group of around 250 Greater Flamingo & 3+ Caspian Tern.

We then headed for a return visit to La Janda with plenty of time to thoroughly explore the area. We did of course see some similar species to the previous visit, but added some new species & improved on views of others, best birds were – 17 Black Stork, c1000 White Stork, c100 Lesser Kestrel, a male Woodchat Shrike & very close views Hen Harrier. We discovered a pool on the far side of the wetland, this had a good selection of waders – Green Sandpiper,  Common Sandpiper, a Wood sandpiper, 2 Dunlin, Black-winged Stilt, Snipe, Redshank, Ringed Plover & smart Collared Pratincole.

16th September 2012

Today we arrived early in morning of the area of Sierra de las Nieves for some of the montane specialities, despite the late time in the year I have found this area to be very reliable in September.

A good 3-4 hours birding here produced most of the wanted species - 6+ Black Wheatear, 10+ Dartford Warbler, 2 Woodlark, 20 Crag Martin, 2 Northern Wheatear, 1 Redstart, 4+ Black Redstart, 1 Subalpine Warbler, 3+ Whitehroat, 1 Mistle Thrush & 6+ Rock Bunting also Raven, Jay & Red-legged Partridge. Also intimate views of Hoopoe.

We took the scenic route back down the mountains, stopping to watch Griffon Vulture, Booted Eagle, Short-toed Eagle & Peregrine.

We had a late lunch in Gaucin & returned for a couple of hours rest at El Papudo, before heading off for the last few hours in the Rio Genal seeing again a good selection of migrants.

17th September 2012

We had failed thus far to have a really good session of raptors, but after the 3 previous days of Levante (easterly) winds & the wind now swinging to light westerly I was very hopeful as we headed to the watchpoint at Tarifa, we started at Cazalla WP.

Over the next few hours we had brilliant views & an excellent selection of birds – 200 Black Stork, 1000+ White Stork, 1 Osprey, c80 Honey Buzzard, 1 Long-legged Buzzard, c500 Black Kite, 1 Red Kite, 10 Egyptian Vulture, 300+ Short-toed Eagle, 300+ Booted Eagle, 12 Marsh Harrier, 5 Montagu’s Harrier, 1 Hobby plus a few  Lesser Kestrel & Common Kestrel.

A fantastic spectacle of migrant soaring birds, but also overhead Swallows, Martins, Bee-eaters & wagtails can also be seen or heard as they head south on the journey to Africa. For a birdwatcher this has to be one of the “Wonders of the World”.

We finished our last evening enjoying Pasta & Pizza in the local Tesorillo bar.

Another wonderful Andalucian trip, with 155 species of bird recorded, most memorable for the migrant plus a sprinkling of montane birds, butterflies, dragonflies & some fantastic cetacean watching.

The next morning the group said there goodbyes & I dropped them all off to board their flights back to the UK.


Visible migration of this sort & magnitude is for myself the most interesting & exciting of birding. Having spent the last 3 Septembers in this area birding with groups. I had decided to stay on for a few more days birding to myself.
I spent 4 out of the 6 days watching raptors from the watchpoints.
Below are some highlights for those days along with a few other birds that were not recorded on the group tour. Thanks to Tony & Wendy Parnell for the transport & great company, plus Penny & John Hale for 2 nights food & accommodation.

18th September 2012

Tarifa watchpoint
30+ Honey Buzzard, 15 Black Kite, 100+ Short-toed Eagle, 100+ Booted eagle, 4 Marsh harrier, 2 Montagu’s harrier, c10 Sparrowhawk, Hobby, 200 Alpine Swift, c50 Bee-eater – stalling right in front of the watchpoint affording superb views!

19th September 2012

Playa de los Lances
Lesser Crested Tern 1 adult with c50 Sandwich Tern, c100 Balearic Shearwater west, 10 Black tern west & Cory’s Shearwater.

Tarifa watchpoint
40+ Honey Buzzard, 100 Black Kite,  130+ Short-toed Eagle, 200+ Booted eagle, 7 Marsh harrier, 1 Montagu’s harrier, c20 Sparrowhawk, Hobby, 19 Egyptian Vulture, Griffon Vulture, 100 Black Stork, 5 White Stork,  Alpine Swift & c50 Bee-eater

20th September 2012

Some cloud at last – plus more migrants on the ground in the Rio Genal, the fields in the alph-alpha fields had been cut – 150+ Yellow Wagtail, 5 Tree Pipit, 4 Whinchat, Wheatear, 20 Bee-eater on the wires, more Pied Flycatcher, Redstart & lots of Spotted Flycatcher all alighting along the field edges. 4 Chough were noted over Casares, the Eagle Owl was calling in the evening but could not be seen

22nd September 2012

Again excellent numbers of stork/raptor passage from Cazalla watchpoint. Also Bonelli’s eagle, Golden Eagle & Osprey seen in the afternoon from L’agarobba.

23rd September 2012

My last day! I spent yet another great day enjoying skies filled with soaring migrants from Cazalla WP.

30+ Honey Buzzard, 20 Black Kite, 1 Golden Eagle it attacked a Short-toed!  270+ Short-toed Eagle, 450+ Booted eagle, 1 Osprey, 4 Marsh harrier, 1 Montagu’s harrier, c50 Sparrowhawk, 3 Hobby, 6 Egyptian Vulture, Griffon Vulture, 50 Black Stork,  White Stork,  c150 Alpine Swift & Bee-eater.

I would like to register thanks to all the people from http://www.fundacionmigres.org/ especially Andres Cruz & Blanca Perez whom added greatly to the experience with many of mine & my groups questions being answered expertly by them & their colleagues.

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