We met up with Paul and Christine from Nottingham at Almería Central Station, they were staying in apartments close by, and whisked them off to the Cabo de Gata reserve – a journey of about half an hour.  It was a beautiful morning – the spring flowers were in full bloom, creating carpets of yellow, purple and red in the usually dry fields.  At the first hide on the salinas we were treated to close  views of dozens of Greater Flamingo,  four Spoonbills and several Avocet and Black-winged Stilt.  A fine Yellow Wagtail was also present.  In the scrub across the road we found Southern Grey Shrike, Common Redstart, Fan-tailed Warbler and dozens of little froglets.  It was a job to avoid treading on them!

Moving on to the next hide we came across a Northern Wheatear, flocks of Spotless Starlings and Crested Lark.  Red-tailed lizards scuttled across the path and Paul tried his id skills on a couple of butterflies.  From the hide itself we had good views of a pair of Great White Egret, more Flamingos and Spoonbills and a small group of Slender-billed Gulls.  A superb male Whinchat was a delight to find.

After a coffee break we went to the final hide and noted 3 tern species; Common, Sandwich and Gull-billed.  Audouin’s Gulls were loafing on rocks in good numbers.  Waders included more Avocets and Stilts plus Dunlin, Kentish and Ringed Plover, Sanderling and Redshank.  A Raven was feeding at the roadside. A short drive then took us to the lighthouse at the point in search of Black Wheatear and two superb males made it worthwhile.

By this time stomachs were rumbling so a tapas lunch in a beachside cafe was called for and didn’t disappoint. Suitably refreshed, we drove west to the nearby Rambla de Morales.  More Avocets were present here alongside common species such as Grey Heron and Common Coot, but lurking at the waters edge we found a real star bird – a fine Wood Sandpiper. That got Paul’s camera clicking!  A flock of five Gull-billed Terns flew overhead as we made our way up the rambla and in the bushes were Reed Warbler, Sardinian Warbler, Hoopoe and Bee-eater.  We also found lots of Wild Boar prints in the muddy puddles. By this stage Christine’s feet were complaining so we decided to drive to a raptor watchpoint for our last venue.  We did get a raptor, a large eagle, but sadly only for a few seconds and were unable to get a definitive id.

We then drove Paul and Christine back to the city and said our farewells at the end of a full and enjoyable day.

The Straits of Gibraltar are well known for the spectacle of migrating birds either leaving Europe for Africa in Autumn or returning in Spring. We ran a trip to the area in early April. Arriving around mid-morning we started at a watchpoint overlooking the Straits just east of the coastal town of Tarifa.  As soon as the scopes were up we were finding Great Skuas passing through in good numbers with occasional Razorbills and Puffins. Gannets and Sandwich Terns were commonplace.  More exciting were two Arctic Skuas and several Balearic and Cory’s Shearwaters!

However, we had really come for the raptor migration and as midday approached we began to notice raptors crossing but well to our east so we decided to change location.  We moved east to a Mirador looking out to sea and this paid off immediately. Black Kites and Booted Eagles were crossing in large numbers along with Short-toed Eagles, Griffon Vultures and two Egyptian Vultures.  A flock of eleven White Storks passed overhead and a little later we watched a single Black Stork drift by.

Sparrowhawks were also making the trip into Europe and an Osprey crossed in the afternoon.  A single Lesser Kestrel was seen and a couple of Marsh Harriers plus two European Bee-eaters.  At times the birds were either really close to or below the viewpoint so excellent details of their plumage were visible.  By about 5pm things started to quieten down and we had lost count of the numbers of some species! Time for a cold drink and a rest and a chance to discuss a truly memorable day with the group.

A friend who was watching well to the west reported ‘clouds’ of Honey Buzzards crossing but strangely we didn’t see a single one.  The unpredictable nature of birding!

Day 1

It was a bright and sunny Monday morning when we met Ian and Ailleen at the Blanca Brisa hotel in Cabo de Gata. We headed to the first hide on the Salinas which produced Flamingos, Yellow-legged Gull, Redshank and Golden Plover.  Due to recent heavy rain the land opposite the hide was flooded and as we made our way across to take a look we had a fantastic view of a Spoonbill flying overhead.  On reaching the flooded land we flushed a Green Sandpiper.  We could hear Hoopoe calling and had good views of Southern Grey Shrike.

We then drove a short way to park at the old Guardia tower by the beach.  Spotless Starlings were present on the tower itself. Walking to the next hide we found Hoopoe, Golden and Grey Plover.  A skulking Stone Curlew was visible from the hide and Slender-billed Gull, Black-necked Grebe, Spoonbill and Little Egret were on the water. Chiffchaff and Stonechat were ever present and Serin flitted about in the bushes.

After a refreshing coffee we went to the concrete ‘Observatorio’ hide. Waders were present in good numbers including Avocet, Sanderling, Dunlin, Black-winged Stilt and Black-tailed Godwit.  A Dartford Warbler played hide and seek with us along with Sardinian Warbler.  Several Sandwich Terns rested on the rocks out in the lagoon with a single, very smart Mediterranean Gull.

Moving to the back of the Salinas brought us Corn Bunting, Thekla Lark and our first eagle, a Short-toed hunting over the mountains! We then made the short drive to the lighthouse in search of our special target for the morning,Trumpeter Finch and were rewarded with excellent close up views of several birds.

After a wonderful lunch in a beachside bar we went to Rambla Morales. The recent rains had flushed the nutrient rich water from the rambla to be replaced with fresh water and so birds were few but we still found Golden Plover and Stonechat and heard Cettis Warbler and Penduline Tit in the reeds. Crag Martins flew low overhead.

Our final target for the day was Dotterel. As we were driving to the location however the elements got the better of us. Our van got stuck fast in soft sand! There’s no lengths we won’t go to to try and find the best birds! A call to the tow truck was needed and we were winched out in the evening light. Ian and Aileen enjoyed the adventure – an eventful end to an enjoyable day!

Day 2

Our second day saw us driving to the plains of Sierra de Baza in Granada Province but on the way we called at beautiful wooded valley to search for Hawfinch. Whilst searching we found Rock and Cirl Buntings and Great Spotted Woodpecker. Then came the Hawfinches. Three birds in the top of a tall tree in typical fashion but then two actually flew towards us and settled low in a hawthorn bush giving us stunning views. A very happy group then moved on to the plains.  Black-bellied Sandgrouse was our first find and as the day went on we had a total of around forty(!), including decent views of birds on the ground.  Large flocks of Calandra Larks were present and we saw Rock Sparrows and Serin drinking from a small pool.  A pair of Little Owls were wonderfully camouflaged amongst the rocky terrain. We also had excellent views of two Chough foraging for food.

In the afternoon we headed up  to the Sierra de Alhamilla.  Our first birds were a pair of Blue Rock Thrush quickly followed by Black Wheatear; Sardinian Warbler and Serin were present in the bushes along with a Blackcap. Tired and happy we headed for a village bar for a cold drink and as we did so a juvenile Golden Eagle soared overhead to round off a wonderful trip!