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!

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.