Monday, 16 May 2016

Spain road trip week 2 - Tarifa to Villafavilla

Spain Road Trip week 2

Here we are again then back in Southern Spain, the destination of many a birding trip between the pair of us. Its great, its invigorating, and its absorbing but we've had a bit of bad luck with the weather .. you'd think anywhere in Spain in the middle of May would bring nothing but sun, sun 'scorchio' sun; instead we've had storms from the SW and lots of rain. Still we've made the very best of the good weather and with 195 bird species recorded to date the race is very much on to crack 200 and beyond!

So, having beat our way all the way down here, this posting includes our return trip back up towards Northern Spain - from Tarifa on the southern coast, westwards towards Sanlucar, back up through Extramadura again, the Sierra de Gata and the Rio Duero gorges and then on to Villafavila.

I've spoken of Tarifa many times before so wont dwell except to say that I'll probably end up there one day in one way or another. Surf town, windy town this time round but it provided the goods once again in the shape of 4 Lesser Crested Terns in amongst 30 or so Sandwich Terns.

Lesser Crested Tern (top right) with Sandwich Terns, 09/05/16
Seen them in Morocco a few years back but a new Spanish bird for me, these are essentially African terns that occasionally stray in to Europe on southerly winds. Similar in size and shape to our familiar Sandwich Tern except for that gloriously dagger like orange bill.

Lesser Crested Tern (left) with Sandwich Terns, 09/05/16
Pallid Swift, Tarifa, 09/05/16
Lots of Swifts down here and a fair few of them are Pallid Swifts, paler and in my opinion easier to photograph!

Along with the terns on the beach there were maybe 30 or Audouins Gulls, this neck of the woods is one of the few places left where you can see these rarest of  gulls.

Audouins Gull,Tarifa, 09/05/16
Backtracking just a tad, back in El Rocio whilst I was writing up the last blogpost in a hotel room, I was let out for a few hours and snapped this nice Spotted Flycatcher along with a Bea Eater at nearby Rocina

Spotted Flycatcher, Rocina, 08/05/16
Bee Eater, Rocina, El Rocio, 08/05/16
 A brief sunny interlude on the straits around Gibralter at Punta Secetra provided an opportunity for some wild flower and seascapes ... 
Wild flowers, Punta Secreta, 09/05/16

Wild flowers, Punta Secreta, 09/05/16

Rock of Gibralter

Punta Secreta, looking out on Morocco

Storm clouds rising over Africa
Egyptian Vulure, nr Facinas, 09/05/16

Just a bit further around the coast near Facinas we were on the hunt for a mega bird species known to breed around these parts - White Rumped Swift. We failed, but got a great 2nd prize of the best views and pics ever of the increasingly rare Egyptian Vulture ... a pair that appeared to be nesting in the cliffs and just drifted in as we were about to depart.

Egyptian Vulure, nr Facinas, 09/05/16
Fantastic to see the scarcest of the 3 vulture species on show in Spain and in such good light. The most common, although still an endangered species, is the Griffon Vulture of course and although I rarely make much of an effort to photograph these beasts, a chanced upon gathering of maybe 50 or so at the road side was an exception ...

Griffon Vulture, nr Facinas, 09/05/16

Griffon Vulture, nr Facinas, 09/05/16
Wet Black Kite, Bonanza, 10/05/16
Next stop - Sanlucar de Barrameda and the marismas at Bonanza is where the weather really set in and we had pretty much solid rain for a couple of days as we travelled north through Extramadura and the Sierra de Gata.

Not much in the way of pictures for this bit of the journey but some interesting bird species recorded including Golden Orioles flying out of Bonanza and heading north in between the rain bursts, with large numbers of Spotted Flycatchers at the same location. Big numbers of Cuckoo, presumably making their way north and more Golden Oriole doing the same in the Sierra de Gata which also yielded a distant Goshawk.

We added Thekla Lark, Red Necked Nightjar, Spectacled Warbler and a long awaited Cirl Bunting (so unobtrusive at this time of the year!) to the list and headed north again for Villafavila.

If I were to recommend an area of Spain where you were guaranteed to see all the best Spanish birds in a very small area I'd say go to Villafavilla. Equidistant between Leon to the north and Salamancar to the south, this curious little township, associated ruins and wetlands is set in prime steppe land, brimming with birds and has real oldy worldy Spanish feel. Twice I've been here, winter and spring and trust me it wont disappoint.

We were camped out on the outskirts, in the ruins and decrepit dovecotes amongst a colony of 20+ pairs of Lesser Kestrels .. how's that for a start?!

This is the last destination for this part of the trip, week 3 will be the Picos de Europas and the Northern coast, so here's the rest of the Villafavilla pics starting with those splendid little falcons ... Lesser Kestrels.

We had 'em hovering, perched, mating, carrying termites and all at close range.

Lesser Kestrel, Villafavila, 13/05/16

Lesser Kestrel, Villafavila, 13/05/16

Lesser Kestrel, Villafavila, 13/05/16

Lesser Kestrel, Villafavila, 13/05/16

Lesser Kestrel, Villafavila, 13/05/16

Old dovecote, Villafavila

Villafavila, deserted church, ruins, wetlands.
Gull Billed Tern, Villafavila, 13/05/16

No pics, they were just too far off, but along with maybe 150 or so Gull Billed Terns, a handful of Whiskered Terns we also had 27 Black Terns drop in to feed over the lagoons ... yet another species for the list!

Great Bustards, Villafavila, 13/05/16

Great Bustards, Villafavila, 13/05/16

More BeaEaters, Villafavilla, 13/05/16
Rounding off, here's the latest wild flower pic quiz ... for me probably when I get around to digging out a field guide but once again please feel free to offer the odd suggestion. Some or all are probably common as muck around here, but not to me!

Saturday, 7 May 2016

Another road trip through Spain - Week 1

I'm on another road trip in Iberia, this time largely as a passenger with my good friend Mark Paine in his smart new van conversion come camper. To take some of the drag out of driving we took the ferry from Portsmouth to Santander and have made it down from northern Spain to Donana in the south in little over a week taking in the following major sites - 

  • Fuentes de Navas
  • Sierra Gredos
  • Extramadura
  • Sierra Morena / Norte
  • Donana

Its been pretty 'full on' and only just managed to squeeze in some internet time here at El Rocio. Its been a cracking good trip so far with some magnificent scenery and plenty of birdlife. Early May in Spain was never going to disappoint and with 173 bird species already recorded we're on course to break the 200 barrier with ease (famous last words!).

Highlights so far then, and with limited time to write this up for now this is mainly pics ...
Leaving Portsmouth on the ferry

Pit stop for the van a few kilometres north of Palencia. Already had Short Toed and Booted Eagle plus numerous Black Kites and here we got our first Bonellis Warbler.

The van, Monzon de Campos, 28/04/16

Bonellis Warbler, Nr Palencia, 28/04/16

First destination, Fuentes de Navas, nr Salamancar - lots of lovely wet fields, trees and bushes full of warblers and Yellow Wagtails aplenty!

 Fuentes de Navas

Yellow Wagtail, Fuentes de Navas, 28/04/16

 Yellow Wagtail, Fuentes de Navas, 28/04/16
These had us flummoxed for a bit, turned out to be Reed Warblers but they were predominantly in trees and bushes and not reeds. Many Grasshopper Warblers, Whitethroats and Blackcaps and the first Subalpine Warbler of the trip.
 Reed Warbler, Fuentes de Navas, 28/04/16

 Subalpine Warbler, Fuentes de Navas, 28/04/16

Wader species at Navas included many Common and Green Sandpipers, Redshank, Ringed Plover, Black winged Stilts of course and a good Grey Plover record. Up to 40 or so Northern Wheaters, Spotted Flycatcher and at dusk we had a couple of Great Bustards flapping past the van into roost.
From here we headed into the Sierra Gredos mountain ranges to the west of Madrid and an overnight stop over at San Martin del Pimpolar added Black Wheatear, Crested Tit, Rock Bunting and Melodious Warbler to the ever growing list.
 Rock Bunting, San Martin del Pimpolar, 1/05/16

Melodious Warbler, San Martin del Pimpolar, 01/05/16
 Comfortably the best Northern Wheatear pic so far!

 Northern Wheatear, San Martin del Pimpolar, 01/05/16

Olive groves & the Sierra de Gredos

Bee Eaters, Nr Candelada, 02/05/16

 Olive Grove, nr Candelada

It goes without saying that the fields and hedgerows are full of colour with carpets of wild flowers in abundance everywhere you look. I'm not going to have time to look up the names of all these blooms but at least I know this one! More flower pics at the end of this post.

Just as colourful but darn elusive is the oddly sounding Golden Oriole, we've heard plenty of their piping calls from high up in the trees and suspect they've just arrived, but seen only brief glimpses and this  one was pure luck....

Golden Oriole, Candelada, 02/05/16

The plains of Serena in Extramadura is a wild and largely uncultivated land, great for steppe species and birds of prey and amongst other things brought us our first Black Vulture
Black Vulture, nr Tallarubio, 02/05/16
 Plains of La Serena

High Plains drifter on wheels, La Serena
 Great Spotted Cuckoo, La Serena, 03/05/16

Calandra Lark, La Serena, 04/05/16
Unlike in the UK, there are many sparrows in Spain, big flocks of them everywhere, mainly House Sparrows but also Tree Sparrows and the scarcer one - Spanish Sparrow, its a bit of a beast!

 Spanish Sparrow, La Serena, 03/05/16

Spanish Sparrow, La Serena, 03/05/16

Another steppe speciality, Great Bustard. We've seen maybe 20 or so in total including displaying incredible sight, shame they were too distant to photograph but a flying big B is the next best thing!

Great Bustard, La Serena, 03/05/16
Both Great and Little Bustards are faring ok here but Montagues Harriers on La Serena, once numbering 160 pairs are in massive decline because of more intensive farming methods
 Male Montagues Harrier, La Serena, 04/05/16

Male Montagues Harrier, La Serena, 04/05/16
Male & Female Montagues Harriers, La Serena, 03/05/16

Honey Buzzards migrate late and we were lucky enough to catch some passage over the plains. We reckoned on about 40 went over in small groups.

 Migrating Honey Buzzards, La Serena, 04/05/16

At Puerto Pena we spent a night on a campsite to regroup, shower and recharge batteries. Big Griffon Vulture colony there with one or two pairs of Black Storks nesting on the cliff face too.

 Black Stork, Puerto Pena, 03/05/16

Black Stork, Puerto Pena, 03/05/16
From Extramadura and La Serena we headed south beyond Seville to the mecca that is Donana, one of Spain's best known national nature reserves. The best bits are well away from the main visitor centre at El Rocio and most of the following were taken around the Jose Valverde centre deep into the reserve.
The old Bombeo pumping station (below) and the van, Donana,  just before an electrical storm
The bird they all come to see here is the Iberian Imperial Eagle and we were lucky boys indeed to happen upon 2 of these huge eagles out in the middle of nowhere and perched  incongruously atop pylons!
 Iberian Imperial Eagle, Donana, 05/05/16

 Iberian Imperial Eagle, Donana, 05/05/16

Iberian Imperial Eagle, Donana, 05/05/16

Donana is a major stop off place for migrant waders on their journey north from Africa to the rest of Europe and there were still plenty around. Ringed Plover seemed to be the most numerous, Dunlin a close second and  a few Greenshank, Redshank, Curlew Sandpipers and Little Stints mixed in with the resident Black Winged Stilts.
 Ringed Plover, Donana, 06/05/16

Little Stint, Donana, 06/05/16

Little Stints, Donana, 06/05/16

Curlew Sandpiper, Little Stint, Ringed Plover & Dunlin, Donana, 06/05/16
 Other highlights from Donana so far have been Pin Tailed Sandgrouse, Isabelline Warbler, Lesser Kestrel, Collared Pratincole, Whiskered Tern, Little Bittern and Black Shouldered Kite.
Black Shouldered Kite, Donana, 06/05/16

Collared Pratincole, Donana, 05/05/16
Whiskered Tern, Donana, 06/05/16

One evening there was a significant movement of Sand Martins with a 1000 plus passing south over the Guidamar river. It could simply have been birds heading into roost or late passage, either way it's the most Sand Martins I've ever seen in one day!

Sand Martin, Donana, 05/05/16 
 Here's a few of the wild flower species I promised, all fairly common I'm sure but I haven't got the time right now to put a name to them ..... if anyone can ID them I'd be muchos gratias!
 Cistus sp?

 More Red Poppies, El Pintado


More to follow as we stick around down here and then head back up north. Adios!