We received news recently from our local contacts of a newly found site for Hawfinch in Almería province. It is a picturesque area of deciduous trees and orchards near the town of Fiñana. Two visits have now produced good numbers of Hawfinch with a flock of 14 on the first occasion. A birder we know who lives close by confirms that this is not unusual in winter. Our team also found Rock Bunting, Corn Bunting, Reed Bunting, Redwing and Ring Ouzel. An excellent addition to our winter tour itinerary and we’ll be checking it come spring for owls too.

A two day trip with Heather, a new client from Lincolnshire who was holidaying in Roquetas de Mar. On day one we met by arrangement at the first lagoon at the nearby Punta Entinas de Sabinar where White-headed Duck and Black-necked Grebe were the highlights alongside more common birds like Pochard and Shoveller. A Kingfisher did a couple of fly-bys and Cetti’s Warbler flitted about the reeds. We spent a  couple of minutes trying to identify a strange call until we realised it was coming from a caged bird on the balcony of a flat opposite! As we entered the natural park a large flock of gulls was visible in flight and much to our delight a single Common Crane flew amongst them. It was then a question of scanning the pools and scrapes. Black-winged Stilt, Turnstone, Kentish Plover, Ringed Plover, Greenshank and Avocet were all present and of course lots of Flamingos. A Marsh Harrier was quartering the reeds. Numerous Chiffchaff were hunting insects along with Stonechat, Southern Grey Shrike and Fan-tailed Warblers.  Spoonbill, Cattle Egret and Little Egret were perched along the shore and a single Great Egret gave lovely views. We got a nice surprise in the shape of  a Spotted Redshank feeding with a group of Dunlin.  A Little Owl watched us from a ruined saltworks building. Audouin’s Gull snoozed amongst the rocks.  A little further on we found a lovely Bluethroat and two Western Swamphen (Purple Gallinule). We drove towards the beach for lunch and parked by a puddle,a rare thing in this neck of the woods. Sure enough it was attracting birds including Water Pipit and a second Bluethroat which we enjoyed whilst munching our packed lunch.

We then moved on to Las Norias for the afternoon. We were greeted by big numbers of Night Herons, numerous Chiffchaff and Hoopoe. Little and Cattle Egret flew over.  Another puddle produced Wood Sandpiper, Green Sandpiper, Ringed Plover, Little Ringed Plover, Redshank and Snipe. A third Bluethroat was feeding in a roadside ditch! Flying over all of this were Marsh Harrier and Booted Eagle. A patch of grassland had Grey and Yellow wagtails. A final Hoopoe was a nice end to the day.

Day two was spent to the east. We started at Las Amoladeras steppes, where Hoopoe, Stonechat, Black Redstart, Wheatear, Calandra Lark and Dartford Warbler got things moving. We then headed to Cabo de Gata for Heather’s target bird and a lifer for her – Stone Curlew and found a nice group of four in the scrubland. Southern Grey Shrike kept an eye on proceedings.  On the saltpans were Little Stint, Black-winged Stilt, Avocet, Dunlin, Ringed Plover, Kentish Plover, Redshank, Spotted Redshank, Sanderling, Greenshank, and Grey Plover with of course numerous Flamingos. Slender-billed Gulls were picking insects off the surface of the water. We had a picnic  lunch by the beach then went to Rambla Morales. Golden Plover, Bar-tailed Godwit, Sanderling and Ringed Plover were feeding on the shore. This was the place where Buff-breasted Sandpiper was present a few days earlier but sadly it had moved on. Cetti’s Warblers called from the reeds but we had no sign of Penduline Tit. Next time. Our day was rounded off nicely by Shoveller, Wigeon,White-headed Duck, Curlew and a beautiful fly past of Flamingos.

We enjoyed three excellent days in early October with regular customers and friends, Ann and Graham from Darwen in Lancs. We arranged hotel accommodation for them in Alhama de Almeria just a few miles from our base in Instincion.

Day one started at the salinas at Punta Entinas de Sabinar and what a start – the very first bird was a stunning migrant Bluethroat!  A pair of Water Rails ran behind it and in the same area were Spotted Redshank and Greenshank. Little Egret, Cattle Egret and Flamingo were numerous. Feeding on the mud were Snipe, Dunlin, Black-winged Stilt, Avocet, Kentish Plover, Ringed Plover, Sanderling and Little Stint. A Marsh Harrier drifted over the reedbed. In the reeds themselves were Cetti’s and Fan-tailed Warblers and a migrating Whinchat.  A Kingfisher flashed by and a fine Western Swamphen (Purple Gallinule) rounded off our visit.

We then moved on to the lagoon and surrounds at Las Norias.  Several Night Herons were our first find then in a dry field a flock of about 30 Yellow Wagtail were feeding including several of the blue-headed race.  A Hoopoe flew around the area as did several Turtle Doves. En route to a secret little corner we know for waders we put up a superb pale morph Booted Eagle.  The corner didn’t disappoint. Two wonderfully marked Wood Sandpipers were feeding alongside two Green Sandpipers and a Western Swamphen wandered past at close quarters. Best bird of all was an Osprey flying low over the lagoon.

Day two began at the salinas at Cabo de Gata. As we stepped out of the car we found Northern Wheatear and while we scanned for more a shout went up of Dotterel!  Four beautiful birds were feeding in the grassy area at the roadside and gave brilliant close views. Hundreds of waders were present on the lagoon and some diligent work revealed Bar-tailed Godwit, Black-tailed Godwit, Kentish Plover, Ringed Plover, Dunlin, Sanderling,  Avocet, Black winged Stilt and Redshank. Best of the waders though was a Temminck’s Stint. Several Audouin’s Gulls rested on nearby rocks. As we came out of the hide a mixed group of Reed Warbler and Willow Warbler were present in the bushes. We then strolled along the path to the next hide, again spotting the Dotterel. However the highlight was a superb Trumpeter Finch sitting on the fence.  On reaching the hide we found a large raft of Black-necked Grebe and of course the ever present Flamingos. Drifting over the distant hills were several large raptors so we drove to an area beyond the village to try and get a better view. We were rewarded by two Golden Eagles! Ann also located four Stone Curlew in the scrub.

After tapas lunch and a cool drink in a beachside cafe we headed to Rambla Morales to look for a long staying Buff-breasted Sandpiper – a very rare migrant for Almeria. We stalked out the area where our team had found it a few days earlier but after over half an hour had no luck so wandered off and found Night Heron, Shoveller,Teal and Pintail. On our return several Sanderling and a Bar-tailed Godwit were feeding in the shallows and our target bird emerged from the reeds. Stunning views of Buff-breasted Sandpiper.  Everyone was delighted! As we basked in our success and of course the lovely sunshine a Hobby shot by, causing panic among the hirundines feeding over the water.

Our third and final day was spent on the plains of Sierra de Baza. Northern Wheatear and Chough were seen before we even got out of the car and at our first stop we were stunned by a flock of almost sixty Black-bellied Sandgrouse! Calandra Larks were present and a Little Owl lurking in a small plantation provided a  fantastic opportunity for photographs. Rock Sparrow was present in an olive grove. We found  further groups of Sandgrouse throughout the afternoon and things were brought to a close by a Southern Grey Shrike.

All in all a great trip.

Many people will know of or may have seen the raptor migration spectacle in the Straits of Gibraltar. What you may not know is that Almeria has its own version.

Every autumn raptors pass over the province in big numbers on their way south. We visited the raptor watchpoint on the Cabo de Gata peninsula with two of our friends on 22nd September. The morning was sunny with hardly any wind and started well with two Short-toed Eagles as soon as we arrived. In just four hours we recorded the following totals;

Lesser Kestrel 1. Black Kite 1. Short-toed Eagle 3. Booted Eagle 9. Sparrowhawk 16. Honey Buzzard 13. Peregrine 1. Marsh Harrier 3. Egyptian Vulture 2.

On another day there might also have been Black Stork and Black and Griffon Vulture over. Other migrants recorded in the area that morning were Osprey at Cabo de Gata reserve and Marbled Teal. And just for good measure one of our team had two Golden Eagles over Rambla Morales on his way home!

Two weeks later a second session at the watchpoint gave the following totals, again in clear sunny conditions with light winds; Booted Eagle 38, Honey Buzzard 10, Short-toed Eagle 3, Sparrowhawk 21,Marsh Harrier 8 and 1 Griffon Vulture. Other birds recorded at a second location included 2 Osprey and 2 Hobby.