We were all excited and eager to get going as we arrived in El Rocio at the start of our 3 night trip to Coto Doñana – one of Spain’s premier birding and wildlife locations trip. It was a beautiful day and the lake on the edge of town shimmered in the early morning sun. There were numerous Flamingos, Spoonbills and Little Egrets. Glossy Ibis flew overhead and Black Kites and White Storks were everywhere. Squacco Herons and Night Herons appeared and were joined by Cattle Egrets. We walked along the lakeside and spotted Black-winged Stilt and Collared Pratincole. We then walked the short distance to El Palacio reserve. In the first hide we could hear Savis Warbler reeling and some diligent searching eventually found him in the reeds. Booted Eagle and Griffon Vulture were easily spotted in the sky. White Storks seemed to be nesting in every electricity pylon. A stroll through the woods produced Nightingale, Cetti’s Warbler, Short-toed Treecreeper, Spotted Flycatcher, Bee-eater and Azure-winged Magpie.

After a picnic lunch birding was resumed in El Palacio and then El Acebuche. Woodchat and Iberian Grey Shrike were feeding from the top of fence posts. Melodious and Isabelline Warblers were singing, Sardinian Warblers were commonplace. In the reeds we found Common Waxbill,which was a first for some of us. A male Golden Oriole was calling as we wandered around the hides with more eagles and vultures overhead and a single Red Kite. A superb first day. We strolled back to our hotel – Hotel Toruño – for a shower and well earned cold beer then a delicious  evening meal in the hotel restaurant overlooking the lake.

Day 2 was spent entirely in the area around the Josѐ Valverde Visitor Centre – fields, scrubland and plains, lagoons and lakes. We got off to a great start with stunning views of a pair of Montagu’s Harriers quickly followed by Booted and Short-toed Eagles. Black Kites were again numerous with again a single Red Kite. Around a ruined farmhouse was a colony of about 14 Lesser Kestrel. Several of the fields were flooded in preparation for planting and these attracted Black-winged Stilt, Avocet, Lapwing, Ringed Plover, Sanderling, Dunlin and Collared Pratincole. There were also lots of Whiskered and Gull-billed Terns and a single Black Tern. We enjoyed great views of Purple Heron, White Stork, Purple Gallinule and Glossy Ibis. In the dry fields were Calandra and Short-toed Larks. Hoopoes and Fan-tailed Warblers were common as was Yellow Wagtail. We enjoyed lunch at the visitor centre along with incredible views of nesting Night Heron, Squacco Heron, Cattle Egret, Glossy Ibis and Purple Gallinule. The afternoon rewarded us with close ups of Short-toed Eagle and more fields full of herons, Glossy Ibis, terns and waders.

Day 3 started in the cork-oak woodlands where Nightingale and Penduline Tit were our first birds followed by Hoopoe and Raven. We then moved into farmland and were rewarded straight away by four Pin-tailed Sandgrouse flying overhead and Lesser Short-toed Lark. All of the great birds of yesterday were present plus Grey Plover and Great White Egret.  We also encountered Ladder Snakes and a huge Wild Boar – and this gave opportunities for some wonderful photographs. Sadly we didn’t find a Lynx – but that is one for next time! We finished the trip a very happy bunch and enjoyed our final night in El Rocio to the full.

Trip report: Fiona and friends, Cabo de Gata. May 2016.

The morning was fine and bright and full of promise as Fiona,Margaret,Martin and David pulled up at our meeting point outside the first hide at Cabo de Gata – after travelling across from Vera. Introductions were made all round then it was on to the business of the day. The Flamingoes out on the lagoons made the first big impression. We counted around 300. Yellow Wagtails were calling and a Spoonbill was on the stone causeway but as is often the way it kept it’s head tucked away,fast asleep most of the time. Several waders were seen including Kentish Plover,Avocet and Black winged Stilt. A group of 4 Knot in brick red summer plumage was a nice surprise. Several Slender-billed Gulls were picking insects off the lagoon surface. We then drove past Cabo de Gata village and parked the cars near the Guardia tower where we had great views of Spotless Starling.

As we were walking to the second hide a stunning male Grey Plover showed well and we added Iberian Grey Shrike to our list. Stone Curlew and Fan-tailed Warbler were heard. More Slender-bills were seen along with Little Tern. At the third hide we found a number of Gull-billed and Sandwich Terns with the rare Audouin’s Gull mixed in plus Sanderling, Redshank and Ringed Plover. Martin was particularly delighted to see the Audouin’s Gulls

Moving on we had coffee and a short break then headed round the back of the lagoons.. Crested and Thekla Larks were present here but sadly our time was coming to an end. Just as we were walking back to the cars two large eagles made a very brief appearance over the mountains but we couldn’t identify them as they only appeared for a second or two. Just time for a photo of a very happy group and to say our goodbyes at the end of a very enjoyable morning.

Not so much a trip report but a report from my brother Garry about his twitch of the Solitary Sandpiper in Almeria:

It was a bright morning when I met my Spanish birding friend Raimundo in Retamar. The drive to the site outside Cuevas de Almonzara only took about an hour. The site itself was a dry river bed a couple of kilometres from the town but on either side of the road crossing were half a dozen small pools. There were plenty of waders there including Black-winged Stilt, Dunlin, Ruff, Snipe, Common Sandpiper and two beautiful Wood Sandpiper. There were also several Green Sandpiper which made finding the Solitary Sand quite a challenge. We needed to consult images of the bird on the internet to be sure.

Tringa Solitaria
After about 90 minutes searching we still did not have a definite ID. We then climbed up the concrete side of the river channel and immediately saw a promising bird in a small, elongated pool. It was actively feeding and displayed all the right characteristics for Solitary Sandpiper. As we watched, a farm vehicle drove past and disturbed the bird and a small cheer went up as it flew a couple of yards giving us clear views of the dark tail. We then watched for a while until it flew back towards the road crossing. At that stage it was joined by a Green Sandpiper and we had a great opportunity to compare the two side by side. An excellent bird and a great morning!

If accepted this will be only the fourth record for Spain. I see no reason why it should not be accepted given the excellent images available and number of of experienced observers who have now seen the bird. There is speculation that this may be the same bird that was seen near Malaga last year.

We were joined in November by Anton, a swedish visitor, for a day in the Sierra de Maria. We left Almeria city early and drove to Velez Rubio for breakfast. It was then on to the birding. Our first birds were a big flock of Crossbills drinking from a fuente. They were soon joined by Firecrest and Crested tit. A Grey wagtail made a surprise appearance and then a rare bird for southern Spain, Brambling, a superb male. Ravens croaked overhead and as the morning warmed up Griffon vultures began kettling. An Iberian green woodpecker called from the forest and we were lucky enough to get a good sighting. Three male Woodlarks gave beautiful songs from on top of the pine trees. After lunch we found Rock bunting and Cirl bunting and Short toed treecreeper. The Crossbills kept us constant company. All in all a great day followed by a pleasant evening in Velez Rubio and back to Almeria the following morning.

I was delighted to welcome three lads from the north for a week’s birding this month. Neil, Tony and Simon are all members of East Yorkshire Motor Services brass band and whilst not being expert birders they were keen to enjoy the birds and scenery of Almeria. They flew into Almeria from Stansted and after they had a shower and lunch at the hotel we headed to Tabernas for a short afternoon session. We were rewarded by great views of crested lark, thekla lark, black wheatear and bonellis eagle.

Day two started at Punta Sabinar. On the lagoon were red crested pochard, common pochard, white headed duck and a huge raft of black necked grebe whilst around the fringes were little egret and squacco heron. Several wader species including ringed plover, kentish plover, avocet, black winged stilt, grey plover and dunlin were present. Greater flamingo was present in good numbers. Several marsh harriers drifted over the reeds. A flock of gulls loafing on a dry lagoon included greater black backed, yellow legged and half a dozen audouins gulls. We then moved on to Las Norias where we found hoopoe, little egret and a lovely group of a dozen yellow wagtails. We drove back over the mountains and stopped to hunt for warblers. Our luck held as we found sardinian and dartford. Other birds present were serin, red legged partridge and spotted flycatcher. The highlight of the day however was right at the end. As we pulled up outside the hotel in Instincion a pair of bonellis eagles drifted right over us!!

For day three we headed to the plains. The first birds we found were calandra larks. As we checked a group of trees several black bellied sandgrouse flew overhead. In the trees were redstart, pied flycatcher and corn bunting. Chough were present in large numbers. As we drove along we found two little owls and atop a small hill was a flock of rock sparrows. In the afternoon we headed to Puerto de La Ragua,a mountain pass on the border of Almeria and Granada at an altitude of 2,000m. As soon as we got out of the car we found citril finch and three griffon vultures flew high overhead. We then located stonechat, whinchat, redstart and rock bunting. In the pines was a short toed treecreeper.

Our fourth and final day took us to the saltpans at Cabo de Gata. Greater flamingo was there in good numbers and again there were rafts of black necked grebe. Slender billed gulls were present alongside yellow legged gulls and a solitary sandwich tern. Numerous waders included kentish and ringed plovers, sanderling, avocet, dunlin, greenshank and black winged stilt. In the dunes we saw southern grey shrike, whinchat, wheatear and sardinian warbler. Around the back of the saltpans we located about a dozen stone curlew and whilst we watched those several eagles appeared over the mountains including short toed eagle. The highlight of the day came as we left one of the hides. A red footed falcon flew straight across our path. After a picnic lunch on the beach we headed to the steppes of Las Amoladeras. Here we again had southern grey shrike, wheatear and redstart. Several black bellied sandgrouse flew over. We were then lucky enough to get a close fly by of bonellis eagle and a migrating honey buzzard was a real bonus to end what was a wonderful week.

Thanks lads,you were excellent company.

Following the very enjoyable visit of the lads from EYMS I was joined by two old friends from the north west, Ann and Graham, both keen birders. They chose to organise their own accommodation in the resort of El Toyo and join us for 3 seperate days birding.

The first day was spent entirely at Cabo de Gata where all the usual quality was on display. Numerous greater flamingo of course and good numbers of little egret, avocet, sanderling, little stint and black winged stilt on the lagoon alongside black tailed godwit and a large raft of black necked grebe. Slender billed, audouins, yellow legged and black headed gulls were present and also several sandwich tern. A marsh harrier flushed a group of 8 spoonbills, a magnificent sight in flight. On the headland we found several balearic shearwaters, northern gannets and crag martins. Driving back towards the village we were treated to fantastic views of a hunting short toed eagle.

A couple of days later we visited the steppes of Las Amoladeras. Our first birds were wintering blackcaps quickly followed by dartford warbler, hoopoe, black redstart and southern grey shrike. A distant bonellis eagle was a bonus. We then had a real surprise as Graham called out ‘trumpeter finch’. 3 juvenile birds gave close up views for several minutes and Ann managed to get some good photos. Alongside the finches we also enjoyed lesser short toed lark and stone curlew. We then headed back towards the car and found black wheatear on the way. After a traditional tapas lunch we headed to the Tabernas desert. Within a few minutes Ann spotted close to 200 griffon vultures kettling over the nearby mountains along with a single black stork. A truly wonderful spectacle and the first time I have seen so many in Almeria. A family group of black wheatears gave good views and as we sat on a rock scanning the desert a golden eagle gave a close fly by.

Our final day trip was to the plains in the west. A very rewarding day began with huge flocks of calandra lark and black bellied sandgrouse flying overhead. Chough was present in good numbers. Lesser short toed lark and little owl kept us on our toes but the highlight came at the end of the day in the form of nine little bustard giving great views in flight and on the ground.

A number of single day trips this month, some of which I would like to tell you about.

The first session was a morning with Tomas and Yvonne from Sweden in the valle del Andarax just outside Instincion. We started in the cool of the morning at 8am and soon found Bee eater and Spotted flycatcher. Cirl bunting was seen calling from a fence. Nearer the river we located Nightingale,Turtle dove and Cettis warbler. In an orange grove we located a male Melodious warbler in full song. Sardinian warbler was commonplace. Golden oriole was calling from several places and we enjoyed good views of male and female birds. Serin was of course all around and in full song. Woodchat shrike was perched high in a dead tree. The morning was rounded off with great views of male Golden oriole again. We walked back into the village and enjoyed a well earned coffee. My friend Patrick,a local bee keeper was with us a gave us lots of information on the local flora.

The next session was with Patrick again,a novice birder,and his friend from Leicester,John. We went to Punta Sabinar in search of waders,terns etc and enjoyed a great morning. Collared pratincole was the bird of the day. They were present in good numbers and gave great views in flight and on the ground. Terns were represented by whiskered,little,gull billed and sandwich species. Black winged stilts were common,some with chicks. Red crested pochard and Black necked grebe were on the lagoons and on the fringes were several Squacco heron and a superb Purple heron. Fan tailed warblers provided a constant chorus and Yellow wagtail was seen. Kentish and Ringed plover were present with Avocet and Redshank. The gulls were mostly Slender billed and of course Greater flamingoes were everywhere. Little egret and Night heron flew overhead.